How to Protect Yourself After the Equifax Data Breach
September 21, 2017
Equifax is one of three nationwide credit reporting companies that track the financial and personal data of consumers for credit rating and other purposes. Equifax receives its data from credit card companies, financial institutions, and retail outlets.
Equifax recently disclosed that it had suffered a cyberattack resulting in a data breach that could affect more than 140 million people. The information stolen includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, home and business addresses, and, in some instances, driver license numbers. Equifax has also disclosed that credit card numbers were exposed for about 200,000 people, as well as personal identifying information on approximately 180,000 people involved in credit rating disputes with the company.
Equifax will directly notify those people who had credit card numbers or dispute records accessed. Everyone else must go to a website created by Equifax to determine if they were affected by the data breach. You can go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and submit your name and the last six digits of your social security number to determine if you were affected by the data breach.
The Consumer Information section of the Federal Trade Commission website has an entire page devoted to the Equifax data breach and helpful information on how to protect yourself if your data has been accessed.
There are general steps that you can take to protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check Your Free Credit Reports. You can check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – for free – by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You can identify accounts or activity that you don’t recognize and then visit identitytheft.gov to find out what you should do next.
- Place a Fraud Alert or Freeze Your Credit. You can put a fraud alert on your credit reports for free by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is then required to notify the other two agencies. A fraud alert requires that you be contacted if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. Fraud alerts last for 90 days and can be renewed. If you know that personal information was accessed and want additional protection, you can place a credit freeze on your files. A freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission; however freezes are not free and can be an inconvenience if you want to take out a loan or apply for a new credit card, in which case you will need to contact the agency for a temporary lift of the freeze.
- Sign Up for a Credit Monitoring or Theft Protection Service. Monitoring services alert you when a company checks your credit history, a new loan or credit card is opened in your name, or if a creditor says that a payment is late or has initiated collection. If the service includes identity theft protection, then you will be alerted when your personal information is being used in a way that doesn’t show up on your credit report, like utility and cable bills, payday loan applications, and social media. These services cost and generally involve a small monthly fee to monitor your credit and protect your identity. However, Equifax is now offering a free year of credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier business, regardless of whether you were impacted by the data breach. NEA Member Benefits offers discounts for LifeLock Identity Theft Protection, which offers several plans for both credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. You can access LifeLock via NEA Member Benefits or directly.
- Monitor Existing Credit Card and Bank Accounts. Go through all your bank and credit card statements to look for any suspicious activity. You should also review your retirement and any brokerage accounts for any changes that you don’t recognize. You should be diligent in reviewing your bank and credit card statements because theft often occurs in small amounts over a long period of time, making it more difficult to readily discern discrepancies in these accounts.
- Consider Filing Taxes Early. Even if you are not due a refund, you should consider filing your tax returns as soon as you have the necessary information to file your state and federal returns. The earlier you file, the less likely someone can file a return on your behalf and receive your refund. Make sure you respond promptly to any requests by the IRS because those requests could identify red flags that someone has in fact filed a return in your name.
A data breach can have a significant impact on your financial well-being and should be treated seriously. The first step is to determine if you have been impacted by the recent Equifax data breach. If so, then these other steps can help protect your information from being misused and/or minimize the harm to you and your financial health.
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