Last week it was discovered that some 143 million American’s had their personal information exposed during a data breach at Equifax. If you have a credit report, then it is highly likely that your information was compromised.
According to Equifax, the breach lasted from Mid-May through July and during that time, the hackers were able to access people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and possibly driver’s license numbers. In addition, they stole credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 people and legal documents with personal identifying information for another 182,000.
How To Determine If Your Information Was Stolen?
In order to protect yourself, the first thing you must do is determine whether your personal information was stolen. You can visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to run a search.
Click on the “potential impact” tab at the top of the page and then enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Make sure that when you do this you are on a secure computer with an encrypted network connection to further protect yourself.
You will be given a date that you can enroll for free credit monitoring services through Equifax. Make sure you take note of that date and return to the site to enroll at that time.
Equifax is offering one year of credit monitoring services. As a side note – this is completely inadequate. Hackers who stole your information through the Equifax Data Breach are patient. They aren’t running out to open accounts in your name tomorrow. They understand that people will become complacent after they forget about this incident.
For that reason, I recommend that you sign up for one or more additional services to monitor your credit on an ongoing basis. Here is a list of several services that you can check out.
There is a link to frequently asked questions about the breach at the site as well.
How to Protect Yourself after the Equifax Data Breach
Here are some other steps you can/should take to protect yourself and your personal information in the wake of the Equifax data breach.
Visit Equifax, Experian and Transunion to check your credit reports for unusual activity. You can do this for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. I recommend that you do this now so that you will have a “baseline” of what your credit looks like. If you start to see suspicious activity, or your credit score drops for no good reason, there may be a problem with your account.
If you do see suspicious activity, you should contact the creditor and the reporting bureau immediately. There are a series of steps that you will need to take to have the account and the fraudulent activity removed from your credit report.
Consider placing a “credit freeze” on your credit files. This will make it harder for a hacker to open up new credit accounts in your name. I’ve never actually done this for my personal accounts, but I’m considering it now. Note that there may be a cost associated with placing a freeze on your credit unless you can show that you have been the victim of credit fraud.
If you decided against a credit freeze, you should definitely place a “fraud alert” on all of your credit files. When you do this, potential creditors are warned that you may be a victim of identity theft and are prompted to ask additional questions to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. I have done this in the past, and even though it can be a pain at times, it is a smart way to protect your credit.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for any charges that you don’t recognize. Go to mint.com or personalcapital.com and sign up for daily email alerts of activity on your accounts – especially for credit card accounts that may currently be inactive.
File your taxes early next year. Some hackers may wait until tax filing season next year and attempt to file a fraudulent tax return in your name before you can do so. The best way to avoid this tactic is to file your tax return earlier in the year and beat them to it.
Last, but not least, visit identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about how you can protect yourself from a data breach.
Final Thoughts on the Equifax Data Breach
This was a huge data breach, and although many people don’t realize it right now, this could have consequences that will last a lifetime for many consumers across the country. The best thing you can do is continue to monitor your credit reports, bank accounts and credit cards for suspicious activity.
This is good advice even if there hasn’t been a data breach – but now it is more important than ever.