Senior Lifestyles: Identity theft – The Equifax data breach may impact you

Published 3:34 pm Monday, October 9, 2017

By now you probably heard about the data security breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s top three U.S. credit reporting bureaus. You may not have thought much about it, but the data that was stolen is expected to involve 143 million Americans, almost half of our nation’s total population.

If your first response to reading that is “so what?” let me explain why it may be important to you to take some steps to protect your personal identify. If you have ever had a credit card, whether it was a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, JC Penney, Sears, Sam’s Club, a gas card or any of hundreds of other merchant credit cards, you may have had your personal information compromised.

If you’ve ever had a mortgage, home loan, opened a bank checking account, established a line of credit, financed a car, applied for a personal loan from a financial institution, or applied for credit for any financial transaction, your personal information may have been stolen through this data breach.

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What was stolen from the Equifax files are crucial pieces of information that can be used to commit identify theft – Social Security numbers, birth dates, legal names and your address history – every one of these items are pieces of information that cannot be changed. The criminals who stole this information can wait years to use it. They can then open new lines of credit in your name, make credit purchases at stores, buy airline tickets and much more. In essence, from a credit perspective they become you, using your good name and credit to live it up while you have to spend months and years trying to fix what happened, reestablish your credit and perhaps even rebuild your good name.

Equifax has said that they will do their best to contact those who have email addresses on file to notify them if their personal information has been compromised. But there are some steps you can and should take immediately to protect yourself.

• You may contact all three credit bureaus to establish a Fraud Alert that requires them to contact you directly, by telephone before any new credit based account can be opened.

• The most effective protective step you can take is to contact all three bureaus including TransUnion and Experian and “freeze” your account at each of them. You may contact Equifax online to freeze your account at What this does is place restrictions on who can view your credit report and helps to lock out the fraudulent use of your name. It actually prevents a potential lender from getting your credit report, and without that report no reputable business or bank will open a new account. HOWEVER, if you wish to buy something on credit, or charge an unusually large amount such as a new refrigerator or HD-TV, you too will be told that the merchant was stopped from getting your credit report. You can lift or “thaw” the freeze and put it back on, but there may be a charge from the credit bureau for doing so.

• It is strongly suggested that you review your credit reports at all three bureaus named above. You may do so online for free once every year at It is suggested that you request your credit report from only one of the bureaus at a time –  Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – and choose a different bureau four months and then eight months later rather than requesting reports from all three at once. Since much of the information is identical at all three bureaus, you’ll be able to review your credit history every four months and watch for anything that appears unusual or needs to be corrected.

• There are services you may enroll in, such as Life-Lock, that for an annual fee will monitor your credit and alert you to any unusual activity. Equifax is offering that service for free for one year to those whose credit has been compromised, but in signing up, you give up your right to join any future class actions lawsuits that will no doubt be filed by those whose information was taken. If your information is among the millions stolen, you might be better off “freezing” your account and becoming part of the lawsuit class for a future settlement.

It’s you responsibility to protect your identity from theft and fraud, and seniors, in particular, are often targets for identify theft criminals. The Equifax disaster wasn’t one you could have prevented, but going forward, be sure you make it difficult for others to gain access to your most important credit information. Doing so can save you an enormous headache down the road.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at