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Why Equifax credit monitoring may not be enough

How to protect yourself after the breach
Posted: 12:40 PM, Sep 18, 2017
Updated: 2017-09-18 19:13:00Z

Equifax is now facing several lawsuits -- including a class action case -- over the massive data breach it announced last week.   

Jessie Griffis is among those new suing the credit bureau. We caught up with him as he went to his local court clerk to file a small claims lawsuit.

He's no lawyer, just an engineer who says Equifax's data breach is inexcusable.

"I'm here to sue Equifax for their wrongdoing to millions of Americans," he said.

Griffis is asking Equifax to do more than just offer free credit monitoring for a year.

"Free credit monitoring is from a company they own. So in essence, Equifax stands to profit from their own mistake," he said, saying that when the free year of monitoring ends, customers will be switched to a paid program.

Some consumer groups share his feelings, saying that allowing the company that exposed your data to now monitor your data is sort of like letting the wolf guard the hen house.

In addition, many people are having trouble signing up, as the website has been balky and phone lines have been jammed in recent days.

Other options for consumers

But cybersecurity expert Apolonio Garcia says while credit monitoring may be better than nothing, a better way to protect yourself is with a paid service like Lifelock, or several others offered by competing companies.

"Lifelock and similar companies have plans from $10 all the way up to $50 a month," he said.

(Lifelock, a few years back, had its own share of controversy, but is now part of the Symantec security network)

But Garcia, of Healthguard IT Security, says there's a less expensive option that can work just as well: freeze your credit, which locks it like a bank vault.

"You can apply for credit freeze on your credit account, through TransUnion, Experian and others," Garcia said. "That is the most secure option of all, as no one can access your information until you manually unfreeze it."

How to freeze your credit

To initiate a freeze:

  • Go the 3 credit bureau websites: Equifax , Experian, and TransUnion.
  • Look for the "freeze" tab (it may be tricky to find at first).
  • You need a separate freeze at each bureau.
  • You'll pay a one-time fee of $5 to $10 at each, though it's free in some states, and free for confirmed victims of identity theft.
  • Beware offers to "lock" your credit. That is not the same thing as a freeze, and it may include a monthly fee.

The downside is you will have to unlock your freeze with a password anytime you want to buy a car, a home equity loan, or new cell phone account.

Read more at the FTC's website.

If you don't want to go that far, Garcia says, you can apply for a "fraud alert," which alerts you to any requests for credit checks or new accounts.
            
Equifax is not commenting on any of the lawsuits over the data breach, but does say it is not profiteering on the episode.

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