There were certain emergency conditions during flight operations that required us to have follow-on actions committed to memory.  Sometimes, the aircraft’s checklist distinguished these critical actions by printing the steps in bold, capital letters.  Someone at some point in the aircraft design and flight testing process determined that things would get really ugly if you spent the time digging out your checklist, flipping to the correct page, and then executing the instructions.

So you memorized the actions, learned how to analyze the situation, and then applied the actions based on what was happening.  Sometimes you had “clean-up” actions to follow in the checklist.  Other times, you were done at the completion of the memorized steps… like ejecting from the jet.

So how does this apply to the Equifax data breach?

First off, about 140 million people were affected by the data breach and the depth of information collected is an order of magnitude greater than you might realize.  The information that was stolen potentially offers keys to the kingdom for malicious individuals who want to open credit cards in your name, apply for a loan, collect your tax refund, and otherwise wreak havoc in your finances.  This means that the Equifax breach is materially more dangerous than previous data breaches at other companies.

Analyze the situation

Just like our little introductory anecdote alluded to, you have to figure out what’s really happening before you can execute the appropriate response. 

The first step:  Visit the website that Equifax established to determine if you were potentially affected.

Was your data compromised?

You’ll notice that Equifax uses some pretty non-committal language when it comes to revealing whether or not your data was stolen.  You’re probably better off assuming the worst if you receive the “we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident” message instead of waiting for confirmation.

Take the appropriate action

You have two options for regaining control of your credit profile: freezing and alerting.  With a credit freeze, you effectively restrict access to your credit report (with some exceptions) which makes it difficult to open new lines of credit or loans or accounts… even for you.  The laws for freezing differ from state to state and some credit agencies charge a fee.  Once you freeze your credit file, you’ll be provided with instructions on how to temporarily lift or completely remove the freeze.  Equifax, for example, will give you a 10-digit PIN and instructions for follow-on options.

Useful numbers for securing your credit file:

Experian:  1-888-397-3742 (new freeze = option 2)

Equifax:  1-800-349-9960

TransUnion:  1-888-909-8872 (new freeze = option 3, place a credit alert = option 4)

A fraud alert adds additional requirements to the identity verification process like voice confirmation.  If a thief attempts to open a new account using your credit file information, the agency requesting a credit report will comply with the fraud alert instructions (like calling you).  An alert doesn’t actively restrict you from getting credit, but it does add an additional measure of security that may help thwart potential thieves.

Monitor… and monitor some more

Some banks offer free (or cheap) credit monitoring as a benefit to members.  USAA has its top-tier credit monitoring service priced at about 12 bucks a month.  That’s pretty inexpensive given the current state of things.  While Equifax is offering free credit monitoring in response to the data breach, the company originally introduced language that prevented you from taking part in any litigation against the company.  Even with the revised language of the credit monitoring offer we’d recommend that you look elsewhere and retain your rights.  Credit monitoring is an “after the fact” response, as it will tell you what’s happened with your credit file and doesn’t restrict access.

Pay close attention to your bank accounts and set up large and unusual purchase alerts if you have that option.  It may be inconvenient to call the bank prior to buying a new TV, paying for a car repair, or going on vacation, but it’s good to have an extra set of eyes looking for suspicious activity.


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