Topmost on the list of today’s chores: Call the accursed credit bureaus over the latest identity theft caper at Equifax. Fortunately, after previous exploits, I have phone numbers that go to humans.
Usually. Experian, first on the call list, has a special number to ask about the Equifax fiasco. They’re saying wait times are up to 30 minutes. And of course, they have loud, annoying Muzak to keep you alert and make your head hurt worse.
But in less than 30 minutes — by far — a living creature picked up the phone, one who sounded like she had a fair number of IQ points between the ears.
She said it’s an option to change one’s PIN, but clearly she had been coached not to dispense advice. But it seems pretty obvious that anyone who busted into your account is going to have your PIN and also will have all the information needed to change the PIN. So instead of adding that kind of hassle, possibly to no avail, I put a 90-day fraud alert on the account.
This seems to be the path of least resistance, for two reasons:
a) It means than ANY time anyone tries to create a new credit or bank account, you get a phone call to that effect; and
b) Experian shares the fraud warning with the other credit bureaus, meaning you don’t have to kill time in other punch-a-button phone mazes.
Since a fraud alert will let you know if anyone tries to use your information to acquire credit in your name, and since I already have a “freeze” on all my credit bureau accounts thanks to the vast Maricopa County Community College District hack, I think I’m going to let it go at that. Rather, I mean, than spending half the day navigating telephone punch-a-button mazes. It might be good to change bank account numbers again, but that is SUCH a huge hassle…it probably would be better to simply access credit union accounts online about once a week and check for any unauthorized transactions.
Understand: frequent bank account checks will have to become a permanent habit for everyone. Hackers know better than to use stolen information right away. They’ll often wait a year or more, by way of getting around various inconvenient alerts and hassles you’ve set up to foil them. Since these devices foil you, too, after awhile you’re likely to let them lapse.
The type of fraud alert that is shared among all three companies lasts only 90 days. You can get a seven-year fraud alert, but to do so you have to jump through hoops at all three companies, and you have to show that you’ve actually been a victim of an identity theft using your private information. Whether you can renew the 90-day thing or not, I cannot tell.
Another permanent habit: get used to filing your income tax returns at the earliest possible moment. One handy use for your stolen data is to file fraudulent tax returns in your name claiming large refunds — meaning you get no refund until you jump through hoop after hoop after migraine-building hoop to prove it wasn’t you.
Now…to find out how to sign on to a class action suit against those craven morons… Olson & Daines, an Oregon law firm, is already organizing one. You can go here to notify them that you’d like to join the class action. And if there’s ever been an event that demonstrates loud and clear why class action suits are valuable and should never be curtailed, this one is it. Equifax knew this hack was going on from May through July; they knew about it long enough for their top executives to get their money out of the firm’s stocks before the news hit the public media.
Without your permission, they collect data on you that is none of anyone’s business but yours — spying on you, really. Though this data, gathered in one place, renders you extremely vulnerable, they do nothing to encrypt it, and so naturally sooner or later some hacker steals it. Now you are screwed and the worst that happens to them is that their stock loses a few points…after their executives have pulled their money out.
With the government defanged — and if the right wing has anything to say about it, permanently enjoined from regulating business models like this — citizens have very little recourse other than through legal action.
Ain’t life in the 21st century grand?