The Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce were given tax advice and a rundown of the Equifax data breach during their recent luncheon.

Belgrade Financial Services Financial Advisor Julie Pratte said if you haven’t checked to see if you are a victim of the Equifax hack, you need to check immediately.

“Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies and the information they got from them is your name, address, telephone number and date of birth,” said Pratte. “They have your Social Security Number, credit history and with some people they have their driver’s license number and credit card numbers.”

Pratte said Equifax also has everyone’s salary information and they say they keep that on a separate database, so that is supposedly supposed to be secure.

“They say the reason they need our addresses is because it will show if the consumer moves around a lot and that is a signal that they are less financially stable,” said Pratte. “That way they would be harder to track down if there were debts left unpaid. The same thing is said of those who move around to jobs quite a bit.”

Pratte said the credit bureau sells this information, but the lenders give them the information for free. The credit bureau sells it back to them.

“In 2011, credit bureaus made $4 billion selling our information to mortgage lenders, credit card companies and things like that,” said Pratte. “That is why you get stuff in the mail offering lower rates or credit card offers.”

Pratte said the breach lasted from mid-May to July. On July 29 the breach was found by Equifax, but they did not let people know that hackers accessed the names and information until Sept. 7. The hackers had six weeks to open up credit in people’s names.

“This is why it is important if you haven’t checked to see if you are one of those affected,” said Pratte. “When was the last time you checked your credit report? You can get one free credit report each year from each one of the credit bureaus. By law they have to give you a free credit report.”

Pratte added everyone needs to make sure all the activity on their credit reports belongs to them. It was just reported this month that one in five consumers has an error on at least one of their credit reports.

“The errors impact your credit score and can impact you getting credit,” said Pratte. “If you find errors, you want to correct them as soon as possible and I urge you to monitor your credit card statements, because if you were affected they could potentially have your credit card numbers.”

Pratte said there are a couple different options available if they were affected. There is a credit freeze or a fraud alert. The difference is a credit freeze will put a freeze on their credit, so it makes it harder for someone to open credit in their name.

“It also makes it harder for you unless you lift the freeze,” said Pratte. “Equitrust is giving anyone who was impacted a credit freeze for free. In the state of Missouri there is a charge to do a credit freeze and you have to contact each one of the credit bureaus to do that.”

Pratte said they can also do a fraud alert, which is a warning that they are an identity theft victim and they should verify who they are before they open credit.

“This is good for 90 days and you have to be the one to notify one of the credit bureaus and they will notify the other two,” said Pratte. “The third option is identity theft protection and this how I found out I was a victim of identity theft.”

“In June I was heading home from a conference and I got a text that my credit report had been accessed,” explained Pratte. “I logged in to my identity theft protection and it tells me that I have an overdue bill of $1,200 from Kohl’s.”

Pratte said she only shops there twice a year, so she called Kohl’s and they told her she had been buying iPads and iPods online and shipping them to West Virginia. She added it took about a month to get that removed from her credit report.

“Again, Equifax is offering this free credit freeze until Nov. 21 and they are also offering an ID theft protection called TrustedID,” said Pratte. “What they don’t tell you, in the fine print it says you sign up for TrustedID Premier, then you are essentially saying if your identity was stolen and you have a ton of debt you’re pulling your hair out trying to fix because it’s not your debt, you cannot sue Equifax because you have signed up for the program.”

To check if you are a victim of the breach, visit equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on potential impact.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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