If you have a credit report, the chances are pretty good that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose personal information was exposed by the data breach at Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in America. As it happens, I found out I may have been one of the victims myself.
Here’s what happened: From mid-May through July of this year, hackers got access to people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. In addition, they stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people, with some of those located in the UK and Canada.
So the questions is – what can you do now? How do you protect yourself? Here are seven steps you should take right now. In fact, I’ve already done a few of them myself.
1. Find out if your information was exposed
Go to equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the “Potential Impact” tab, and follow the instructions from there. Make sure you’re on a secure computer while you do that. This was the first thing I did, and they told me my data may have been compromised. I followed the instructions, my name, a few digits of my Social Security number, and I had the info I needed. It was easy, and took less than a minute.
2. Get a credit report
Even if your information wasn’t compromised, it’s a good idea to look at your credit activity anyway to see what’s on there. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion each offer one free credit report per person, per year.
3. Accept the offer from Equifax to monitor your credit
Right now they’re offering consumers a year of free credit monitoring through their Trusted ID service. I did this already, and that too was easy. It might take a few days to get it all in place, but it’s worth it. And signing up for it does NOT limit your litigation options related to the breach.
4. Request fraud alerts.
Doing so with all three credit reporting agencies can make it more difficult for people to create credit under your name with stolen information. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to do it soon.
5. Consider putting a security freeze on your credit.
Taking this step prevents ANY new lines of credit from being issued in your name as long as the lender checks with one of the credit-reporting agencies. A credit freeze should be done through all three agencies and could include an initial fee of up to ten dollars.
6. Change your passwords
You should probably do this on a regular basis anyway, just to be safe, regardless of the problems at Equifax. I’ve already done this myself. Your passwords should be as complex as possible and should include double authentication whenever possible.
7. Monitor all of your financial statements for any unusual activity
Hackers will sometimes make a very small transaction on a hacked account to see if it’s active and if the owner is paying attention before they commit more extensive fraud.
Those are seven of the most important steps you can take right now. Of course, nothing is completely foolproof, and there’s no guarantee that everything will work, but anything you can do to make it more difficult for the bad guys to win is a big step in the right direction.