Equifax breach remedy has limits

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After it revealed that a major breach of its records took place, credit bureau Equifax is offering to help you to protect yourself from the potential of identification theft. We believe that you should proceed cautiously before you accept that offer.

Equifax, which is one of the big three credit bureaus, announced that the personal records of 143 million Americans were breached. The breach lasted from May 2017 through July 2017, and the credit bureau says hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers, credit-card numbers and dispute documents.

Equifax is offering a few steps to consumers, so they can protect their information from being misused. It set up a website, equifaxsecurity2017.com, where consumers can check to see whether their records were affected. It also is offering free credit monitoring and other services for 1 year.

However, you should keep in mind that credit-monitoring services do nothing except to report when changes were made to a consumer’s credit report. Consumers still have to do all of the legwork if a problem is found, Matt Schulz of Creditcards.com reminds Consumers Digest. Schulz also notes that consumers easily can monitor their own credit reports.

“These services can be better than nothing,” he says. “There’s something to be said for the peace of mind that can come that somebody is watching over your stuff.” He adds that consumers should check their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus, which also include Experian and TransUnion.

Schulz says Equifax’s offer of a free credit freeze is good in that it typically costs you $10 per credit bureau to implement a credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name.

Fortunately, you won’t have to give up your rights to sue if you sign up for Equifax’s free credit-monitoring service or a credit freeze. Previously, doing so meant that you agree to binding arbitration to settle any disputes that might arise. Arbitration tends to favor companies far more than it does consumers. However, after public outcry, Equifax changed its terms of use and eliminated the forced arbitration.

This story was revised to account for Equifax’s change in its terms of use.