The most recent Equifax hack is one of the worst for Americans because so many people have had their information passed through the company, but the bigger picture is that data breaches seem to happen to large companies all to frequently these days.
With Equifax, the particular worry is thieves knowing every bit of your sensitive information. With this they could take out loans in your name, alter existing accounts and ruin your credit. Although there isn’t much good news to a data hack like this, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
First, find out if your information was compromised. Visit this page on Equifax and click the “check potential impact” button. If it says your information was likely stolen, at a minimum you should sign up for the free credit monitoring Equifax is offering for a year.
But that level of protection likely isn’t enough. The thieves still have your personal information and could use it to apply to lenders who don’t use Equifax. Also, because the thieves have your social security number, they could wait and use it a year or five or ten years from now. Unless America totally rethinks the system it uses to identify everyone, that still leaves you vulnerable.
Here are some other steps you should consider taking, adapted from the Federal Trade Commissions recommendations:
• Start checking your your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You can check each one time a year for free. Space them out in four month intervals, so you’re regularly getting up-to-date information. If you see evidence of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
• Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. A credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts, but implementing a freeze at all three of the major credit bureaus means they won’t be able to issue a report to any company that doesn’t already have you has a customer, making it harder for the thieves to use your information to open a new line of credit. You can unfreeze it with a special PIN when you want to apply for a new loan.
• Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
• If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
• File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
By putting a freeze on your accounts, checking your credit reports regularly, and monitoring activity on your existing accounts, you’ll be doing everything you can to protect yourself. As always, contact us if you need more information, or want to know how Liberty Savings helps their members with credit protection and theft.