Experts recommend freezing credit following Equifax data breach

BALTIMORE, Md. (WMAR) - Maryland's attorney general is directing Equifax to clear up some of their confusing messaging in light of the massive security breach.

There's concern that some may lose the ability to join a class-action lawsuit if they sign up for free Equifax services, or that they will eventually be charged for those services.

The Equifax breach affected an estimated 143 million people or nearly half of the U.S. population. Even if you don't use Equifax’s services, your information still could've been compromised.

“When we apply for a credit card, a home loan, an auto loan, they're verifying our credit worthiness. Where have we worked, where have we lived, are we paying our bills on time? And that's what these corporations are collecting,” said Professor Thomas Byrd.

Byrd teaches cyber forensics at Stevenson University Online. He said the breach has the attention of lawmakers who are now reviewing how corporations store and protect consumer's personal information.

“The cost of entry to hacking is very low, so a lot of these hacking tools that these guys are using are free for the most part. Developing the skill and the knowhow, people work towards that unfortunately that's why the onus is on corporations again to protect our data, stay two steps ahead of these guys,” Byrd said. 

The consumer should also stay a step ahead by freezing their credit.

“A credit freeze is basically blocking new creditors from checking your credit. Your existing relationship with credit cards or car loans will remain in tact, they can still check on you, but no one can take out a new line of credit without proving they're you,” said Emily Scarr, the director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

While credit monitoring is a useful tool, you're often alerted to fraudulent activity only after it's happened.
 
Equifax is now offering free credit monitoring along with other free services, but not without scrutiny, particularly with their forced arbitration clause.

“Basically, that waives your right to a class-action lawsuit. They've said this will not apply to folks who are signing up for credit monitoring but also on their terms of service there are still places where it does, so it's just vague enough that they need to be more clear and remove forced arbitration from all of their policies,” said Scarr.

Maryland PIRG is not recommending people sign-up for Equifax’s free services until Equifax confirms they won't take away your right to sue in all terms of use on its websites.

They do recommend requesting a free credit report and placing a credit freeze on your credit report from all three credit bureaus.

It costs $5 in Maryland and also $5 to unfreeze. If you plan on opening any new line of credit or need to be approved for a home or apartment you may want to hold off on freezing your credit.

For more information on freezing your credit report, click here to visit the Maryland Attorney General’s website.

A new Maryland law, which takes effect Oct. 1, also waives the $5 fee for your first credit freeze with each bureau.

If you need to check if you're information may have been compromised in the breach, click here.

And click here for further recommendations on ways to protect your financial data.

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