Look Out for This Letter if You Were Impacted by the Massive Equifax Data Breach

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  • Equifax's colossal 2017 data breach exposed a huge amount of consumer information.
  • As part of a settlement, the company must now offer free credit monitoring to those who signed up for it.

You may get it by mail or email.

In 2017, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, was the subject of a major data breach that leaked sensitive information belonging to millions of U.S. consumers. As part of its settlement, consumers had the choice to ask for a $125 lump sum payment or free credit monitoring from all three major bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Many consumers opted for the latter -- free credit monitoring -- over a lump sum of cash. The reason? Those who chose the cash option were warned that if too many people claimed it, that $125 would get whittled down to a much smaller sum. And so many consumers opted for credit monitoring because it not only seemed like the better deal, but also because of the peace of mind it gave them.

If you opted for the free credit monitoring option, you should be receiving a letter or email soon -- or you may have received one already. It pays to act on that notice to put your protection in place.

The peace of mind you deserve

If you're entitled to free credit monitoring from the Equifax data breach, you should expect a notice telling you to sign up for Experian IdentityWorks. Yes, you read that correctly.

Even though it wasn't Experian that had the breach, it's an Experian service being offered for an Equifax issue. If you're invited to sign up for IdentityWorks, rest assured it's not a scam.

Once you receive your instructions to sign up, you'll be given a website and activation code to enter. You'll also be given a deadline to sign up for credit monitoring (though that deadline may be a few months away).

From there, enrolling is simple. You'll just enter some personal information and go through an identity check where you're asked questions about things like past addresses, and then you're all set. Once enrolled, you'll be privy to benefits like:

  • Daily credit monitoring
  • Automatic alerts when you apply for a new credit card or bank account
  • Online access to your Experian credit report, updated monthly
  • Identity theft insurance, which provides coverage for certain costs you might incur if you're a fraud victim
  • Support services in case you become a victim of identity theft

Is there a downside to signing up?

Not really. With a credit freeze, lenders and credit card companies are blocked from running a credit check on you, which could hold you up if you're trying to apply for a new loan or credit card. With IdentityWorks, you don't get the same level of protection, but you also don't have to deal with the hassle of unfreezing your credit every time you want to put in an application. Plus, you might enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing there's a service that's monitoring your financial activity for you.

Say a criminal attempts to open a bank account using your details. Ideally, you'll get an alert from IdentityWorks as soon as that application goes through. At that point, you'll be able to contact the institution in question and report that activity as fraudulent. That may stop the account in question from being opened, leaving you with less of a headache.

In an ideal world, data breaches wouldn't happen. But since Equifax already suffered a big one, you might as well take advantage of whatever protection you're now entitled to.

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