In another example of the inability of an individual to protect themselves in our increasingly connected society, Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, was exposed in a data breach from roughly mid-May into July.
Equifax has confirmed the hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also report credit card numbers were stolen for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
Many clients and others have been asking me about what to do in this age to protect their credit and themselves from these breaches. If it wasn’t Equifax, it’s likely some or all of the same data mentioned above has been garnered through other attempts. The best thing you can do in my opinion, so long as you don’t need to access your credit right away is to freeze your credit. There is a cost, which I believe is $10 per agency (refunded by Equifax at the moment) but the benefit is that no one can open a line of credit or credit card in your name if your credit is frozen. Below is taken from the Federal Trade Commission: www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do
There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused.
• Find out if 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. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
• Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
• You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.
Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:
• Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
• Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
• Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
• If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. 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.
• File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.