This past week Houstonians cleaned up after Hurricane Harvey and Floridians braced for the cleanup to come with Hurricane Irma. Meanwhile, consumer credit reporting agency Equifax dealt with a cleanup of hurricane proportions as well. More than 143 million social security numbers, along with other personal data, were compromised in the midst of major data breach.
Since 2015 the company, which is undoubtedly a tempting target, has experienced three major threats. Equifax is like a one stop shop for hackers looking to cash in on identity theft. Information accessed in the hack beyond social security numbers, includes birth dates, names, addresses, etc. There are reports that over 200,000 consumers credit card numbers were stolen.
With more than half the American-adult population likely affected, what should you next?
1. Freeze your credit.
Freezing your credit is the single greatest tool you can utilize against any potential fraud. By freezing your credit, you restrict access to your records. Obviously, this could limit any credit you would apply for since creditors will not have access to your history, but it beats trying to clean up the mess identity theft can leave behind. That could take months or even years! Don’t take a chance; freeze your credit NOW!
Note: If you are in the middle of buying a home or even refinancing, consider doing a 90-day fraud alert instead. Once you have completed the transaction, then freeze your credit.
If you see anything suspicious, immediately revert to number one if you have not done so already. With most lenders and credit issuers reporting to at least one of three agencies, there is no way to know with certainty that the others were not hacked too.
You are also allowed one free report every 12 months. If you have not taken one in the last year, do so now. Look for new accounts that you have no knowledge of. Double check to see that you recognize all credit inquiries. Finally, make sure your balances match your statements.
Honestly, you should already be doing this, but if you are not, then start now. The fastest and best way to catch questionable activity is making sure your statement matches where you have been and what you spent your money on. In today’s digital age, you can even sign up to receive text alerts for charges. Consider doing that as an extra precaution for now. If you see something fishy on your statements, immediately call the lender or credit issuer in order to dispute it.
While Equifax has a hurricane of a mess to cleanup, don’t allow yourself to be one of the casualties. If you want to check to see if you were part of the data breach you can do so here. In the event that you find you are, put the above steps into action as quickly as possible. Perhaps you find that you weren’t, then still follow the advice above. It’s better to be vigilant on a matter like this than lackadaisical. You don’t want identity thieves to catch you off guard.
Note: There are some questions surrounding whether you will be able to take part in a class action lawsuit if you take the one year of free monitoring services through TrustedID being offered by Equifax. No matter what you decide to do, remember thieves can be patient. They very well may sit on the information beyond a year. Protect yourself daily with the steps above.