Chances are, you have heard about the massive data breach that occurred recently at Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit reporting bureaus. Last month, Equifax announced that sensitive personal information belonging to 143 million Americans had been exposed to hackers, making this the largest data breach in modern history.
According to Equifax, the hackers stole such personal information as individuals’ names, birthdates, addresses, and Social Security, credit card and driver’s license numbers. This is exactly the kind of information that enables criminals to wreak havoc on victims’ financial lives.
Steps to Take Now
The breadth of the Equifax data breach is truly stunning when you consider that it could impact nearly half the U.S. population. Therefore, it would be wise to take a few basic steps to help protect yourself and your family members from harm if your personal information has been compromised.
The first thing you should do is visit the Equifax Security website to find out if your personal information may have been exposed to hackers. Once there, you will enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your Social Security number and the site will immediately tell you whether or not your personal information may have been compromised.
If it has, you will be given the opportunity to sign up right away for Equifax’s TrustedID Premier credit monitoring and credit lock service. This service, which is being offered for free until January 31, 2018, includes the following:
- One free copy of your Equifax credit report.
- Credit file monitoring for all three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — including automated alerts of key changes to your credit files at each of these bureaus.
- Equifax credit report lock, which allows you to prevent access to your Equifax credit report by most third parties.
- Social Security number monitoring, which searches suspicious websites for your Social Security number.
- Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance to help pay for certain out-of-pocket expenses if you are a victim of identity theft.
Freezing Your Credit File
In addition, you may also want to place a security freeze on your Equifax credit file, which can be done by visiting the Equifax Security Freeze Website. This will prevent criminals from opening any new credit accounts in your name. When you freeze your Equifax credit file, you will receive a 10-digit PIN that you’ll need in order to remove the freeze or authorize Equifax to release your credit file for a specific period of time.
You have until January 31, 2018, to freeze your Equifax credit file for free. By this time, Equifax has pledged to offer a new service that will give you the option of controlling access to your personal credit data. According to Equifax, this service will let you easily lock and unlock access to your Equifax credit files reliably, safely and at will. Equifax says this service will be offered free for life.
A Few More Suggestions
Here are a few more steps to consider taking in light of the Equifax data breach:
- Keep a close eye on all your bank accounts for awhile to look for any suspicious activity.
- File your taxes early next year to minimize your exposure to tax-related fraud, which could rise due to the Equifax data breach.
- Use secure passwords and two-step verification on all your accounts.
- Monitor your credit reports regularly by ordering one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. This way, you can order a free credit report once every four months.
- When choosing identity verification security questions, don’t choose questions with answers that criminals could easily find online, like “Where were you born?”
Please contact us if you have more questions or concerns about the Equifax data breach and the security of your personal information.