Here are the steps you can take to protect yourself in the wake of the security breach at credit reporting agency Equifax.
1. Equifax is offering a website www.equifaxsecurity2017.com where you can check to see if your data was compromised. Currently, the site does not give you a definite “yes” but seems to let you know if your data was not breached. According to their announcement on September 7, 143 million customers were affected by a hack that occurred between May and July. Some British and Canadian consumers might be affected as well. With so many Equifax customers included in the breach, there is a good chance your personal data is compromised. Equifax collects Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, drivers license numbers and demographic data. (For more, see: Was I Hacked? Find Out If the Equifax Breach Affects You.)
2. Even if you are one of the lucky ones that was not affected, it is a good idea to check your credit at least once a year. You are entitled to a free credit report annually. You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com to order a report from all three credit reporting companies at one time. Even though the offer is free, make sure you check for the following:
- Trial periods
- Cancellation requirements
- Automatic renewals
Be wary if you are asked for credit card, debit card or any form of “payment” for a free service. Free should be free.
3. When you get your reports, check for notifications to see if new credit applications have been filed on your behalf and monitor your accounts for activity that is not yours. If you find anything, report it immediately.
4. Put a date on your calendar to order your credit report annually. Think of it as an annual fiscal checkup.
5. Request a credit freeze from all three bureaus. This restricts access to your credit report, which helps prevent other creditors accessing it to open up new accounts. This service can cost about $10 but will prevent anyone from opening a new account, applying for a job, renting an apartment or buying insurance with your data. (For more, see: Identity Theft Protection Services: Worth Having? )
6. Going forward, consider signing up additional fraud protection. Companies like Lifelock, EZ Shield and Identity Guard provide extensive protection services. Their monthly fee is approximately $10. Their programs provide address change verification, help cancelling or replacing lost credit cards, drivers licenses, Social Security cards and insurance cards, plus a “restoration team” that helps correct any identity theft issues and black market website surveillance.
7. Alert your bank and companies overseeing any other financial accounts and strengthen passwords with two-factor authentication (password and confirmation via phone number).
Watch Out for Phishing Scams
It's very important to be aware of phishing scams. A legitimate firm will never ask for a full Social Security number or drivers license and will not send information requests by email or by phone. They should provide you with clear information to identify themselves. If they need your information, they should confirm your card number, zip code and one or two security questions.
Going forward, pay attention to proposals of legislation to mandate free credit freezes along with free credit reports when a breach occurs. Don’t dismiss the opportunity to voice your opinion when given the opportunity. (For more, see: 7 Ways to Protect Against Credit Card Hacks.)