It is estimated about 143 million Americans had their personal information stolen during a data breech at Equifax earlier this year. This is just about half of the population of the United States. Essentially, any individual with a credit report is potentially impacted.
Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies. These agencies gather personal and loan payment information on anyone with credit. This data is factored in to decisions such as whether you receive loans or credit cards, your credit limits, your interest rates, and the cost of your insurance premiums.
The data stolen in the Equifax cyber theft includes names, social security numbers, birthdates, and some driver’s license numbers. This information will be available to the thieves for years to come. In contrast, when your credit card number is stolen, you can close the card and have a new one issued. You can’t change your birthdate, however.
With all this information, thieves have a better chance of using your identity to take out loans, withdraw funds from your bank and investment accounts, file tax returns and medical claims, and create a whole new you.
As consumers, we need to be constantly on the alert for fraudulent activity in our names – indefinitely.
You can visit the Equifax website at equifaxsecurity2017 to find out whether your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. The site will give you the option of signing up for a year of free credit monitoring service.
In its article, The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do, the Federal Trade Commission offers these steps to help protect yourself:
Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You can get a free report once a year from each of the agencies by visiting annualcreditreport.com
I recommend staggering your reports: get one from Equifax now. In four months, request the report from one of the other agencies, and in 8 months request the report from the third. Repeat these staggered requests forevermore.
Read your credit reports. If you spot accounts or activity you don’t recognize, visit identitytheft.gov to learn what to do.
Consider placing a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your credit files.
- A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file. Most creditors look at your credit report before they approve a new account or loan. If they don’t have access to your file, they may not extend the credit, making it more difficult for a thief to open an account in your name. If you elect to do this, place a freeze on your file at each agency. There is a small fee to do so. The freeze remains on your file until you remove it.
Keep in mind:
- A credit freeze does not prevent thieves from accessing your existing accounts. You still need to monitor them.
- Any time you want to apply for a loan or a new credit card, or price new insurance, you will need to lift the freeze, for a small fee.
- A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. Fraud alerts temporary.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely. I recommended checking weekly. The sooner you spot something, the sooner you can report it and, hopefully, minimize the damage.
File your taxes early, if possible. File your taxes as soon as you have all your tax documents. You want to prevent someone from filing a return using your social security number and collecting a tax refund. If you receive correspondence from the IRS, read it. Respond immediately. The IRS will contact you in writing, not by telephone.
I also have these recommendations:
Read the Explanation of Benefits from your medical insurance company immediately. Look for medical claims you did not make. You do not want to get stuck with the bill for someone else’s surgery. And, you don’t want a stranger’s medical history mixed up with yours. If you find incorrect information, contact your medical insurer immediately.
Put a Google Alert on your name. “Google Alerts” is a notification service offered by the search engine company Google. You set up the system to search for your name in web pages, newspaper articles, and blogs, and send you an email when it finds it. Although you need to have an account with Google to use Google Alerts, it is good way to learn if any criminal activity has been reported in your name. To set up an alert, go to google.com/alerts.
Sign up for account alerts. Available with many banks and credit card companies, you can sign up to receive notification emails or texts about activity in your accounts. This is early notification that someone may have unauthorized access to your credit card or bank accounts. To set this up, log on to the website and type into the search function “account alerts.”
Set up two-step verification for online account access. Also called two-factor authentication, more and more companies offer this additional layer of protection. Once two-step verification is enabled, when you log on to a site, you will need to enter a set of numbers that you receive via email or text. Should someone steal your password, the thief would need to have both your password and your computer or phone to access your account online. To set this up, log on to a website and type into the search function “two step verification,” “two-factor authentication” or “2FA.”
Because of the number of people impacted and the longevity of the stolen information, the Equifax cyber breach is quite serious. I encourage everyone to find an extra few hours in their week to take measures to protect themselves.
This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice. Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.