A data breach at Equifax in 2017 compromised the personal information of at least 147 million consumers. As part of a court settlement related to the hack, Equifax agreed to provide six free credit reports each year, for seven years, to all consumers. These six reports are in addition to the one free Equifax report (and the free ones from Experian and TransUnion) that you can get each year under federal law.
In this article, you’ll learn when and how you can access your extra Equifax reports.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) (15 U.S.C. § 1681 and following) gives you the right to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—once every 12 months. To get your free reports, go to AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the government-authorized website for this purpose. You can also get copies of your reports by submitting a request by phone or mail.
Under the Equifax settlement, everyone—whether they were affected by the breach or not—can get six more free credit reports each year, beginning in January 2020, for the next seven years. (To find out about compensation for consumers who were affected by the hack, see Equifax Data Breach Settlement: How to Get Compensation.)
To get your additional reports at no cost, you must go to Equifax.com—not the official government website mentioned above. Again, the reports will be available starting in January 2020. You can sign up to receive an email reminder in early 2020, which will include further instructions on how to get these reports.
Under the FCRA, you have the right to dispute all incomplete and inaccurate information in your credit file. So, you should review your reports on a regular basis to make sure your creditors haven’t reported incorrect information to the credit bureaus. Also, you should make sure that any accurate negative information isn’t too old to be included in the report.
If a creditor then subsequently removes the incorrect or outdated negative information from your report, your credit score will likely go up.
If your personal information was exposed in the Equifax (or another) data breach, you should regularly check your credit reports to ensure that the hacker isn't using your personal information to get credit in your name. But simply reviewing your credit reports isn’t a good enough strategy to protect you from identity theft. Once you spot a problem in your reports, like a loan you didn’t take out, it’s likely that an identity thief has already starting misusing your credit.
So, if your information has been exposed, you should strongly consider placing a freeze, and perhaps a fraud alert as well, on your credit files. A freeze blocks potential creditors from reviewing your credit to approve an application. Initiating a freeze at all three bureaus is by far the best way to protect your credit from identity thieves. With both a freeze and a fraud alert, even if you unfreeze your file to give a potential creditor access, that creditor still has to take steps to make sure that you—and not an imposter—made the request.
If you need help straightening out your finances, dealing with debt collection agencies, or getting credit bureaus to remove fraudulent information from your credit report after an identity thief opens new accounts in your name, consider talking to an identity theft attorney, a debt settlement attorney, or a consumer protection attorney.
An attorney can also advise you of all of the rights and the remedies available to you under federal and state law.