Expert: In wake of Equifax breach, consider a credit freeze

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii consumers are starting to find out whether they may have been affected by the massive data breach at the credit reporting firm Equifax.

The company announced Thursday that at least 143 million Americans were affected by the breach, which was discovered on July 29. Information taken in the breach included Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers, names, birth dates, credit card numbers and addresses.

Equifax has set up a website where people can check whether their personal information was potentially affected by the breach.

Equifax is offering free credit protection monitoring for a year. But according to consumer protection officials, the fine print in the offer appeared to make consumers give up the right to sue to the company.

"It's unclear at this point whether Equifax is asking people to give up the right to file a lawsuit in exchange for getting this one free year," said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

In response to criticism, Equifax announced late Friday that the arbitration and class action lawsuit waiver does not apply in this cyberattack. However, the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii said it was unknown whether consumers will be told when the year is about to expire, or whether they'll automatically be hit with the monthly charge of about $20 a month.

Hackers took enough information to sell to scammers, who could strike at any time in the future.

"It takes time for the criminals that have harvested the information to now market it and sell it to various parties who will then implement and put it to use to open up credit accounts, to attempt to gain access to your accounts," said BBB Hawaii president and CEO Gregory Dunn.

Others may also jump in to take advantage of consumers with phone calls and emails.

"Dollars to donuts, what's going to happen is people are gonna get an email that says, 'Oh we have information that you've been compromised by this Equifax security breach. Give us this information and we'll help you out.' If you get anything like that, ignore it," said Levins.

Levins said consumers should consider placing a credit freeze on their credit reports with all three credit reporting agencies, including TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, which would prevent anyone from taking out credit in their name. "If they try to take out a credit card in your name, the bank or the credit union is not going to extend any kind of credit to them because they're not going to be able to access your credit report," he said.

Officials are urging people to be vigilant and to examine credit card and bank statements carefully to prevent identity theft, which caused $15 billion in losses last year, according to the BBB.

"The average person lost about $1,300 in hard dollars due to identity theft, but what's not counted is the time and the expense of regaining your good credit," said Dunn. "It takes the average person six months and 200 hours of personal work to try to clean up identity theft."

Copyright 2017 HawaiiNewsNow. All rights reserved.