Five months after they announced a data breach that affected about 145 million Americans, the credit reporting company Equifax has launched a webpage with information specifically for service members.
The page, which went up Thursday, offers options for service members seeking to protect personal information that’s held by Equifax, as well as details on power of attorney provisions that would allow someone else to handle the process ― during a deployment, for instance.
Equifax has also launched Lock & Alert, a new service that allows any U.S. consumer 18 and older to quickly lock and unlock their Equifax credit report for free, for life.
The Equifax breach was announced Sept. 7; the information stolen includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. About 209,000 Americans had their credit card numbers stolen.
The webpage reiterates that service members can place a security freeze or an active-duty alert on their credit file. It provides directions and links for doing that with Equifax.
Security freezes must be placed individually with each of the three credit reporting companies (the other two are Transunion and Experian). If an active-duty alert is placed with one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, it will be referred to the other two, so you need only contact one.
Consumer advocates expressed concern about potential increased vulnerability of service members after the Equifax data breach, because of frequent moves, and deployments.
“If thieves can open accounts without the service member’s knowledge, this can lead to a credit report overflowing with unpaid debts ― a sure way to get a security clearance revoked and short circuit a military career if left unresolved,” said Rohit Chopra, senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.
Senators Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., sent a letter to Equifax in September, asking the company to provide details they were taking to protect service members’ personal information. Later, after Equifax failed to respond, the senators’ staff members connected Equifax with experts in the Defense Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs to provide input to help them provide information for service members.
“Our men and women in uniform deserve to have easy access to information on how they may have been negatively impacted and what tools are available to protect their credit files moving forward,” Donnelly said in a statement announcing the new web page for service members.
Equifax offered free credit monitoring after the breach, but the deadline for signing up for the service was Jan. 31.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.