15 questions (and answers) about the Equifax data breach

Equifax announced a "cybersecurity incident" leaving the personal information of 143 Americans exposed (WGME)

  1. What happened? On September 7, Equifax announced a "cybersecurity incident" which exposed the personal information of 143 million Americans.

  2. What information was stolen? Hackers stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers, and in some cases, credit card numbers.

  3. What is Equifax? Equifax is one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies. You may have never heard of Equifax, but the company likely has a lot of information about you. Equifax keeps credit files on consumers that are used by banks, lenders, and businesses to approve loans and credit cards.

  4. What is Equifax doing about the breach? Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring service, which after public outcry no longer requires consumers to give up certain rights in order to join.

  5. How do I know if my personal information is impacted by this incident? Equifax has set up a website where you can search to see if your personal information was exposed. However, there are widespread reports from consumers that the results are unreliable and inaccurate. Consumer advocates say it's best to assume your information was exposed.

  6. So should I sign up for the free credit monitoring? The Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection says it can't hurt, but you shouldn't rely on it to protect you from identity theft.

  7. Why won't credit monitoring protect me from identity theft? Credit monitoring only detects fraud after it happens and usually only monitors one of the three credit bureaus, according to Janet Carpenter with Maine Identity Services.

  8. What is a credit freeze? A credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) is designed to stop a credit reporting company from releasing your credit report. If you freeze your credit report, criminals can’t get in, pretend to be you, and set up fraudulent accounts in your name.

  9. Should I get a credit freeze? YES -- and with all three credit bureaus, according to a whole slew of consumer advocates, including the FTC, Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, Maine Identity Services, and U.S. PIRG. "Only the security freeze can prevent someone from opening a new credit account in your name," said Mike Litt of U.S. PIRG.

  10. How do I get a credit freeze? Contact each credit bureau to request a security freeze:
    >>Equifax 1-800-349-9960
    >>Experian 1-888-397-3742
    >>TransUnion 1-888-909-8872

  11. How much does it cost? Maine is one of 7 states where a credit freeze is free after a change to Maine law in 2015.

  12. Can I still use my credit card and debit card if I freeze my credit? Yes. A credit freeze only prevents opening up new credit.

  13. Will a credit freeze affect my credit score? No.

  14. What if I want to open up new credit -- like a mortgage or cell phone? When you sign up for your freeze you'll get a PIN you can use to temporarily lift the freeze.

  15. I missed the CBS 13 On Your Side Help Center and have more questions? I want to talk to someone! The team at the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection is ready to help -- 1-800-332-8529
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