WASHINGTON -- I finally made it in.
After numerous checks of my email, spam folder and a very unhelpful call with a customer representative, I was able to register for the free credit monitoring service offered by Equifax following its massive data breach, which affected 143 million consumers.
Through its service TrustedID Premier, I can view my Equifax credit report as well as my files at the other two major bureaus, Experian and TransUnion. I can also lock my Equifax file for the time being, which hopefully will prevent identity thieves from applying for credit in my name.
But do I feel safe?
Not at all.
There are still so many other ways that fraudsters can use the information stolen from Equifax -- including my address and Social Security, driver's license and credit card numbers -- to cause chaos in my financial life.
The monitoring service won't protect me from someone using my information to file a fraudulent tax return. And because a freeze or credit lock still allows companies you have an existing relationship with to pull your credit files, I remain vulnerable.
This latest data breach adds to a long list of others that have put millions of consumers in jeopardy of becoming identity-theft victims. So it's no wonder many of you have a lot of questions. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to get answers.
Here are some queries I've already received from readers, which I ran by an Equifax spokesperson.
J. Lindley from Las Vegas wrote, "I have not succeeded in several attempts to enroll in Equifax's free monitoring. I don't want to resort to freezing my accounts, as I've been working to get a mortgage, among other things that require credit reports. And the hassle of freezing and unfreezing seems insurmountable, given that I'm a single person who works 10 hours or more a day at a job that gives me little downtime to make personal calls. For now, I'm sticking to checking all my banking accounts daily."
Equifax: "Due to the number of consumers who have requested enrollment in the TrustedID Premier product, we are experiencing periodic delays in issuing confirmation emails. We assure you we are working diligently to send confirmation information as quickly as possible, and apologize to the consumers who have not yet received their confirmation emails."
Another reader asked: "We had a 'freeze' in place at Equifax, TransUnion and Experian at the reported time of the Equifax breach. Did the hackers obtain our PIN and therefore invalidate our freeze?"
Equifax: "A consumer who had a freeze on their Equifax credit report may be part of the impacted population. However, because a credit freeze allows consumers to restrict access to their credit reports, it is difficult for potentially impacted information to be used inappropriately if a consumer had a freeze in place. It is also important to note that the incident did not impact Equifax's core consumer credit database, which is where a freeze is applied. Therefore, a consumer does not need to refreeze their credit report, as the freeze continues to be in place until the consumer removes it."
A reader named Marvin, like so many others, wondered why he's been having so much trouble placing a freeze on his file.
Equifax: We have "completed an upgrade to our [interactive-voice response] application processor and we are expanding the server capacity to enable more calls to come through. We are also expanding the number of lines into the system with our telephone carrier."
Lois Ambash from Needham, Massachusetts, wrote, "I've read that if I accept the services offered by Equifax in the wake of the breach, I will be forfeiting my right to sue, even as part of a class action. Is this true? My state Attorney General, Maura Healy, has filed suit against Equifax on behalf of all residents. If the suit is successful, I don't know how I would be affected."
Equifax backed off from forcing people to agree to mandatory arbitration, writing in a statement: "Because of consumer concern, the company clarified that [arbitration and class-action waiver] clauses do not apply to this cybersecurity incident or to the complimentary TrustedID Premier offering. The company clarified that the clauses will not apply to consumers who signed up before the language was removed."
Finally, Renee of Annapolis, Maryland, asked me, given Equifax's security issues, if I was concerned about having to enter the last six digits of my Social Security number during the registration process for TrustedID Premier.
Sure, I'm worried. But there's a lot I need to do to protect my financial information. So I've decided that it's worth the risk to take up Equifax on its free offer to help.
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