Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, recently reported a giant data breach. According to the company, between mid-May and July, hackers accessed personal information of 143 million Americans. This information included names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers, and in some cases, driver’s license numbers. Additionally, 209,000 credit card numbers were exposed, as was the personal identifying information of 182,000 Americans involved in credit report disputes.
First, here’s what you should do to know if you’ve been affected by this breach:
- Go to equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/. Sharing your last name and last six digits of your social security number (ironic, eh?) will tell you instantly if you are one of the 143 million.
- Whether you’re affected or not, Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring. Take it.
- The very unlucky 208,000 owners of the credit card numbers will be mailed a notice.
- Check your credit report for unfamiliar activity here: com. It’s free, once per year.
- Check all your account balances for fraudulent withdrawals and charges, including banks, investment accounts, insurance policies and credit cards.
If you find any suspicious or fraudulent activity, take these steps:
- Report the activity to the company where it occurred.
- Have them close or freeze the account.
- Change your logins, passwords and pins.
- Have one of the credit agencies place a 90-day fraud alert. That company will tell the other two:
- Equifax: (888) 766-0008
- Experian: (888) 397-3742
- Transunion: (888) 909-8872
- Report the activity to the Federal Trade Commission:
- identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away or (877) 438-4338
Hopefully, nothing has happened. But hackers are smart and patient, and may very well wait for the furor to die down before using your information. That goes for all of us, whether or not this particular breach has exposed our information.
Here’s what to do to help prevent future fraudulent activity:
- Consider putting a proactive freeze and a fraud alert on your credit report. The Federal Trade Commission explains it well here: consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.
- File your taxes as early as possible. Scammers may try to get a tax refund, or even a job, using your Social Security number.
- Continue to check your accounts for suspicious and fraudulent activity at least monthly, or even weekly if you have the time.
- Get your free credit report at com every year.
Of course, nothing any of us can do will ever guarantee the safety of our information. But being proactive will certainly make it more difficult for the scammers. So be vigilant, friends. And know that we’re here to help.
John & Bill