Nearly half of all Americans are affected by a cyber security breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit-reporting agencies. Here’s how to avoid being a victim.

Tech Q&A: Many have pointed out the irony of going to the organization that couldn’t keep its data secure to protect you from further damage

QUESTION: Is it true that if I enroll in the free Equifax protection program that I can’t be part of a class action lawsuit?

ANSWER: In what may be one of the most damaging data breaches to date, Equifax — one of the big three credit bureaus — announced that 143 million U.S.-based consumers may be affected by a data breach that occurred between May and July of this year.

What makes this breach so damaging is that the most sensitive personal information including Social Security numbers, birth dates and home addresses was part of the breach.

Equifax TrustID Premier enrollment

In an effort to provide some level of protection to impacted consumers, Equifax has launched a special website ( to explain what has happened and to offer their ID theft and credit monitoring service for free to anyone that wants it.

Many have pointed out the irony of going to the organization that couldn’t keep its data secure to protect you from further damage.

Such “free” services typically only last for a year, which doesn’t really do you any good in the long run since you can’t change your Social Security number very easily.

The “Terms of Use” for TrustID Premier has a pretty common arbitration clause that includes “a waiver of the ability to bring or participate in a class action, class arbitration, or other representative action.” (You can read the entire statement at

That clause had made people wonder if it keeps you from participating in a class action.

However, Equifax has updated its FAQ on this question with the following: The arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the TrustedID Premier Terms of Use applies to the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products, and not the cybersecurity incident.

Enrollment for the free one-year subsciption ends on Nov. 21, 2017

MORE:  What to do if you’re one of the 44% of Americans hit by the Equifax breach

‘Pretexting’ concerns

One of the most disconcerting aspects of this breach is that the sensitive information that was stolen is extremely useful for a form of “pretexting” that could have nothing to do with your credit file.

Pretexting refers to the act of pretending to be someone in order to gain access to private or sensitive information.

In this case, your information could allow a perpetrator to pretend that they are you to convince your bank, utility, cellular provider, even the IRS to change something like an email address or physical address because the typical information required to prove your identity is in the hands of the bad guys.

RELATED:  How to protect yourself against identity theft

Tax-filing concerns

Another big area of concern will be for the tax-filing season next year. The filing of fraudulent tax returns has become a billion-dollar problem and this breach just made it easy for this problem to grow.

Make a note in your calendar to file your tax return as quickly as you can next year to avoid the mess that’s created if a fraudulent return is filed before you file your real tax return.

Children’s credit files

ID thieves covet the Social Security number of children because it’s a lot less likely that anyone is monitoring the credit of a young child. Whatever you decide to use to monitor your own credit files, don’t forget your children as well.

Credit freeze

One of the best ways to lock down your credit file is to put a freeze on it with all three credit bureaus.


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