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Credit expert: Assume breach affected you

A local credit repair expert has some advice for consumers who were affected by a large security breach announced earlier this month by a major credit monitoring agency.

Equifax, one of three credit bureaus that serve U.S. consumers, announced that 143 million Americans were potentially affected by the breach, which occurred in late July. Names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers were among the pieces of information accessed by the attackers, according to a statement on the Equifax website.

Stephanie Adams, chief executive officer of SOS Solutions, helps people repair or build their credit and makes credit plans for people.

“If it’s credit, I can probably do it,” she said.

Adams gave several pieces of advice for credit consumers.

The first piece of advice? Assume you were affected.

“I think you should just assume that you are compromised,” she said. “Half of America was hit by this.”

Equifax has created a dedicated website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to help consumers find out whether they were affected and learn how to protect themselves. The company also is offering free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection to all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether they were impacted, according to the website. The website states that clauses in its terms of use do not prohibit consumers who take advantage of the free credit monitoring from later participating in arbitration or class-action lawsuits, despite what many originally thought.

No credit card information is required to sign up for the free credit monitoring, the website states. Consumers will not automatically be enrolled or charged after the conclusion of the complimentary year.

However, Adams said she would not advise people to sign up for the free credit monitoring.

“I don’t know why people would sign up for credit monitoring with the credit bureau that actually got breached,” she said. She recommended a “good credit monitoring service” such as LifeLock, Privacy Guard or MyFico.

Adams also advised people to freeze their credit if they don’t plan to open any lines of credit in the next two months. Equifax has agreed to waive fees for removing and placing security freezes through Nov. 21.

Adams also urged people to monitor their credit report once a month. The free credit report offered once a year often isn’t good enough, she said.

Adams said folks should ask their bank how closely they monitor potential fraud.

If someone’s credit is breached, Adams said there is a process to get the fraud removed from their credit report.

“If you do find out you’ve been breached, it’s as simple as going down to the police department and filing a police report for fraud,” she said. Once that’s done, the report should be sent to the credit bureau, along with an affidavit that states the account was fraudulent.

However, Adams warned, doing so when it’s a legitimate account that one just wants to remove from their credit is a violation of the law, and any “expert” who is advising someone to do that is violating the law, as well.

“They go to jail, and you go to jail,” Adams said.