5 Ways to Protect Yourself after the Equifax Breach
If you weren’t already concerned about identity theft and protecting your credit, the Equifax breach should have served as a major wake-up call.
The credit-rating company disclosed that it was hacked earlier this year, exposing the personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers to anyone with a penchant for wreaking havoc.
This breach is not unique. Identity theft happens every day. Here are five ways you can protect yourself and keep your information safe.
1) Find out if your information was exposed.
Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number at Equifax’s website. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by the data breach—maybe. Responses have been spotty, with some users just getting a non-committal answer.
2) Enroll for a year of free credit monitoring.
After Equifax checks your status, the company will offer a year of its TrustedID Premier credit monitoring for free. Whether your data was exposed or not, take them up on the offer. If your information is at risk, you’ll want to keep the company on the hook to keep your finances safe. Even if your data wasn’t touched, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on it.
You may have heard a rumor that if you accepted the free credit monitoring from Equifax, you forfeited your right to sue. That’s no longer true. Criticism from the public has led Equifax to update its terms to say “enrolling in the free credit file monitoring… does not prohibit consumers from taking legal action.”
3) Review your credit reports.
You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can get these copies easily from AnnualCreditReport.com, which is sponsored by the U.S. government. When reviewing these reports, look for incorrect personal information, credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, and accounts you’ve never opened. These are all signs of identity theft.
4) Check your accounts for suspicious activity.
Start by taking a close look into your bank records. Make sure your balances are what you expect them to be, and that there are no unfamiliar ATM withdrawals. Check your online credit card statements as well. Look for small, seemingly insignificant charges of $1 or less—these are often made to test the waters before a crook makes a major charge.
5) Lock down your info.
If you’ve noticed suspicious activity on any of your accounts, are nervous about having your personal info floating around cyberspace, or want to be extra careful with your credit, sign up for fraud alerts or a credit freeze. A fraud alert requires creditors to verify your identity before they issue a credit card or open a new account in your name, or increase the credit limit on one of your existing accounts. You can do this by contacting one of the major credit reporting agencies; they’ll notify the others. This is a temporary measure, though, that you’ll have to renew.
If that doesn’t seem secure enough, you’ll want to set up a credit freeze. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit. If you want to open a new line of credit, like a mortgage, you’ll need to lift the freeze either permanently or temporarily.
The FTC website has good information on fraud alerts and credit freezes.
Data breaches, like the Equifax breach, have become far too common. Your identity—and your credit—are at risk, whether or not you were affected by the Equifax breach. So, educate yourself and safeguard your personal information, before it falls into the wrong hands.