Q: Is it true that if I enroll in the free Equifax protection program I can’t be part of a class-action lawsuit?
A: In what may be one of the most-damaging data breaches to date, Equifax, one of the big three credit bureaus, announced that 143 million U.S.-based consumers may be affected by a data breach that occurred between May and July this year.
What makes this breach so damaging is that the most-sensitive personal information — including Social Security numbers, birth dates and home addresses — were part of the breach.
Equifax TrustID Premier Enrollment
In an effort to provide some level of protection to affected consumers, Equifax has launched a special website to explain what has happened and to offer their ID theft protection and credit-monitoring service for free to anyone who wants it.
Many have pointed out the irony of going to the very organization that couldn’t keep its data secure to protect you from further damage.
These types of “free” services typically only last for a year, which doesn’t really do you any good in the long run, because you can’t change your Social Security number very easily.
Because I’m not an attorney, I can’t tell you if this truly keeps you from participating in a class action, but it would appear for the moment that holding off to enroll might make sense until this question has been clearly answered.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of this breach is that the sensitive information that was stolen is extremely useful for a form of “pretexting” that could have nothing to do with your credit file.
Pretexting refers to the act of pretending to be someone in order to gain access to private or sensitive information.
In this case, your information could allow a perpetrator to pretend that they are you to convince your bank, utility, cellular provider or even the Internal Revenue Service to change something, such as an email address or physical address, because the typical information required to prove your identity is in the hands of the bad guys.
Another big area of concern will be for the tax-filing season next year. The filing of fraudulent tax returns has become a billion-dollar problem, and this breach just made it easy for this problem to grow.
Make a note in your calendar to file your tax return as quickly as you can next year to avoid the mess that’s created if a fraudulent return is filed before you file your real tax return.
Children’s credit files
Identity thieves covet the Social Security number of children because it’s a lot less likely that anyone is monitoring the credit of a young child. Whatever you decide to use to monitor your own credit files, don’t forget your children as well.
One of the best ways to lock down your credit file is to put a freeze on it with all three credit bureaus.
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