As you’ve likely already seen and heard plenty of news regarding the recent Equifax data breach, we’ve put together a summary of key information and steps you should take to protect your identity and minimize your chances of being a victim of identity theft.
From mid-May through July, Equifax reported unauthorized access to the personal information of (currently) 143 million Americans. This breach exposed key personal identification data, including:
• Social Security numbers
• Birth dates
• as well as some driver’s license numbers.
In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 Americans, and “certain dispute documents with personal identifying information” for approximately 182,000 Americans were also accessed.
What should I do now to help protect my identity?
1. Your first step should be to visit Equifax’s “Potential Impact” website as soon as possible to determine if Equifax believes that your information may have been compromised.
Whether or not Equifax believes that your personal information may have been impacted, they are offering a free year of credit file monitoring service through TrustedID Premier, which includes credit monitoring of the three primary credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) among other services. Note that credit monitoring cannot prevent credit theft from happening – it can only notify you if and when it’s already happened. You’re able to enroll for the eligible services for free through November 21, 2017.
2. Next, check your credit reports if you haven’t already. You’re able to request one free credit report from each of the primary three credit bureaus each year. You can stagger the credit reports throughout the year so you’re able to continually track your credit activity.
3. Review your bank and credit card accounts’ activity and statements regularly, so you’ll quickly know if something potentially fraudulent appears. If you notice anything unusual, contact the bank or credit card company to report it and continue to closely monitor the account’s activity. If you notice any new bank or credit accounts, or notice suspicious or fraudulent account activity, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s site: www.IdentityTheft.gov to determine what to do next.
4. If you’re not currently in the process of making a large credit purchase (mortgage, car, or taking out a line of credit, etc.), consider freezing your credit with the three primary credit bureaus, as well as Innovis, another large credit reporting agency. This will help to prevent anyone from attempting to use your identity during these and similar financial transactions. Once the freeze is activated, the credit bureau will provide a PIN number that is required to be used when unfreezing an account. This will come in the form of a confirmation letter in the mail. Some credit bureaus may also provide it over the phone in addition to the letter. It is critical that the PIN number not become lost as there will be no other way to unfreeze an account afterwards.
You’re able to begin the process of freezing your accounts online or by phone. In New York, these services are free, while residents of other states may be charged a fee. Below are the contact numbers for the four credit bureaus:
5. File your personal tax returns as soon as possible to prevent possible tax-related identity theft, which can occur when someone illegally uses your name and stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
The potential consequences from the Equifax data breach might not be felt immediately, and if so, that doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook. Unfortunately, the breach might have long-term effects on our financial lives, thus making the routine analysis of your credit reports and regular monitoring of your bank and credit card activity and statements an essential part of our personal financial security in the future.