Preventing Identity Theft
Identity theft is very much in the news these days with the data breach at Equifax. And the fact is, if you have a credit report there’s a very good chance that you are one of the 143 million Americans affected. Unfortunately the data breach, which lasted from mid-May through July of 2017, was pretty bad. Equifax admitted the hackers were able to access consumer’s names, their Social Security numbers, date of birth, addresses, and in a number of cases – driver’s license and credit card numbers.
This article provides some details on the steps you should take to protect yourself and your credit. But to start, the FTC has put out short, fun video that effectively summarizes what to do.
The first step to take is find out if your information was exposed to the hackers. Equifax has set-up a separate site that will tell you if you’re one of the 143 million affected by the breach. The Equifax site is, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. And please be sure to use that specific URL. There were a number of fraudulent URLs put out there that were similar and could potentially be dangerous.
Assuming you have been impacted, Equifax does provide free credit monitoring and other services that can help guard against your information being used. Taking advantage of this is a good initial step in protecting yourself. Equifax has also provided a helpful FAQ page that goes into additional depth about the security breach, Equifax FAQs.
The following steps are important to consider for this particular incident as well as any data breach that affects your personal data.
1. Pull you credit reports from the three major credit bureaus and evaluate them. Ensure there are no new accounts that have been set up without your knowledge, or that there isn’t any unanticipated activity on any of your current accounts. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are required to make available your credit report to you for free. Simply visit annualcreditreport.com.
2. Consider freezing your credit reports. This will prevent a thief from opening new account or lines of credit. It’s very effective at preventing that type of fraud, but it does have some drawbacks. There is a small cost for applying the freeze, but it’s relatively small -- $5 - $10. The rules differ from state to state, so with some states the freeze isn’t indefinite – you need to renew it after a stated period of time. Also, if you do need to apply for new credit, you’ll have to have the freeze lifted. With there being both pros and cons to this option, it might be worth reading through the FTC’s information on this first, Credit Freeze FAQs.
3. Placing a fraud alert on your accounts. The fraud alert requires that creditors take steps to verify the person opening a new account is actually you. The fraud alter is free and doesn’t require that your reports are frozen. So creditors can still access them if needed.
4. Check your credit reports and credit score. One other thing to keep in mind with the credit freeze is that it only prevents new accounts from being opened, but it does not stop thieves from exploiting your current credit accounts. That’s why it’s important to monitor your credit reports and credit scores for any suspicious activity.
5. Keep an eye on your current credit accounts. In addition to keeping an eye on your credit reports and scores, it’s also important to monitor your credit cards and bank account activity. Some of the fraudulent activity that would be found through a change in your credit score is delayed based on the frequency the score is calculated. To effectively prevent this activity it’s important to also monitor your credit accounts for unfamiliar purchases or balance changes that are unanticipated.
6. File your taxes early. One of the ways identity thieves exploit your information is by filing your taxes ahead of you and taking your refund. When you know someone from the outside has accessed your data, it’s best to file as early as you can an cut off the possibility of them stealing your refund.
These steps should prevent your information from being used by others in a way that could potentially be damaging to you. The federal government provides a comprehensive site if you have additional questions, IdentityTheft.gov.
None of this is fun to go through, but if hackers have accessed your personal data it’s important that you take action. Avoiding a problem with your identity or credit is much better than having to deal with it after a problem has occurred.