Identity thieves hit a major credit reporting agency—hard. Millions of consumers’ confidential identity information has been compromised.
Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting agencies announced that a massive security breach took place earlier this year. Offenders accessed data sets of 143 million US consumers.
That means all of the information you give the bank when you apply for a car loan, mortgage, credit card, or a new bank account could be compromised. The Equifax breach includes millions of social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit cards and driver’s license numbers.
How widespread is the data heist? Let’s put it this way. Wikipedia says the July 2016 US population was 323,127,513. In 2014, the adult population was 245,300. Near as I can tell, that means more than half of all adults in the country have been compromised!
What to do? Here are 6 steps I suggest you take to protect yourself.
1. Determine If You Are Impacted
Equifax is sending written notifications to every impacted consumer. If you cannot wait, go to equifaxsecurity2017.com and provide your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. You will see if your information may have been compromised.
2. Enroll in Credit Monitoring
Compromised or not, you can enroll in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier program which is complimentary 1-year credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com or call Equifax at 866-447-7559 for more information.
According to Equifax FAQs, signing up for Equifax TrustedID
does not limit your legal options related to this breach.
You might also ask your credit card issuer, bank, insurance agent, financial services representative or your employer’s HR department to see if they have similar credit monitoring programs. For pay services, there may be a third type of solution at Equifax, TransUnion or Experian.
3. Get Fraud Alert with Another Credit Bureau
Fraud Alert on your credit report alerts creditors and lenders who pull your credit report to take extra steps to verify your identity. Ideally, this stymies anyone trying to impersonate you on a credit application. Most fraud alerts only last 90 days, so you may want to repeat. You only need to alert one of the bureaus:
Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
4. Monitor Bank and Credit Card Accounts for Unusual Activity
Watch your bank and credit card statements for unusual activity. Some consumer advocates suggest doing so daily, but at a minimum, check your credit report annually. If you let any of the big three know your social security number was stolen, they will send you a copy of their credit report files. Even so, you are entitled to a free credit report annually from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
5. Report any Identity Theft
To prevent tax-fraud thieves from filing tax returns in your name and collecting any tax refunds, Tom’sGuide suggests reporting theft of Social Security number to the IRS or by calling 1-800-908-4490. They also recommend reporting the theft to local police. A police report could help clear your records and your name, and is necessary if you apply for a new Social Security number.
6. Beware of Phishing Attacks
In 2015, ransomware criminals hacked into the Federal Office of Personnel Management and used 22 million stolen email addresses to launch a large-scale attack. Keep your guard up when reading through emails. Don’t open or respond to anything that looks suspicious.