There has been a lot in the news lately about a huge security breach that happened at credit reporting agency Equifax. In fact, the odds are good your identity has been compromised since there were 143 million people affected. So what should you do to give yourself the best chance of protection?
The breach started in mid-May of this year and lasted through July. Of course, we consumers did not find out about it until this month, which to me is criminal, but I digress. The hackers got names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and in certain cases, driver’s license numbers. Scarier is that 209,000 people had credit card information stolen.
How Do I Know If Hackers Have My Personal Info?
How can you find out if you are among this esteemed group of victims? Follow this link to find out if your information was compromised.
Incidentally, when I tried it with my personal information, it showed I was impacted by the breach. As I followed this story since it started, there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not the page to identify if you were hacked or not was accurate. I am going to assume for now that it is correct. Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring if you register by November 21, 2017. If the link above shows you were impacted, you can sign up on that same page. It is just my opinion, but I believe Equifax should have to offer credit monitoring services for much longer than a year.
What Can I Do To Protect Myself?
Here are some things that might be helpful in protecting yourself:
Monitor your credit card statements and bank accounts very closely and very often. This can all be done online. If fact, I get an email every morning with my bank balance, seven days a week, first thing in the morning. I can tell at a glance if something is wrong. I also check my credit card statements every day to look at new charges.
Take a look at all three of your credit reports, looking for new activity and to see who has pulled your credit report lately. You can do this for free here: annualcreditreport.com.
Give some thought into putting a freeze on your credit files. This will make it much harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name, since potential creditors will want to see your credit history. If your account is frozen, credit will not be granted until you contact the credit reporting services to let them know you applied for some sort of credit. Freezing your credit files will not harm your credit score, and will not prevent you from seeing your own credit report. If you want to freeze your credit report, here are the websites and phone numbers of the big 3 reporting services:
3rd party monitoring services can be used. One of the most popular is called LifeLock (www.lifelock.com). There is a monthly fee involved, and understand this is not about prevention, but about notifying you if it detects any suspicious activity. Once you sign up, if you are a victim of identity theft, the company will reimburse you for the loss (depending on your plan), expenses associated with the identity theft, and Attorney fees if needed. There are other monitoring services as well, this is the one I am going with.
Closing bank accounts and re-opening them with a different account number is a good idea also, especially if you have some accounts with sizeable sums of money. If the hackers have your bank account info, it will do them no good if the account is empty.
Don’t Just Hope You Are Not A Victim
If you are not afraid of what can happen, you should be. You can change your credit cards, change your bank accounts, certificate of deposits, etc. but you are stuck with your Social Security number for life, and if the Equifax hackers have your Social Security number, they can keep that information for years before using it. I would bet hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers have already been sold on the Dark Web.
In a statement, Equifax chairman and CEO Richard Smith said: “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes”. REALLY? So why did you sit on this information for two months before telling anyone? Yes, I am more than a little honked off that this happened, and even more so that they kept it a secret for so long.
Insider experts say that Equifax was warned the day after the breach and a patch was invented to block hackers, but Equifax ignored it. Two high-ranking Equifax executives have retired and cashed out their stock options, and did so just before the news of the breach became public. Although two cases of Yahoo.com being hacked affected more people, the Equifax breach contained much more sensitive information.
If the Equifax site shows you have been compromised, get a game plan together to protect your identity. You cannot imagine the hassles of having your identity stolen. You see, you have to prove the questionable transactions were not done by you, and this can be time-consuming and expensive. I’ve had listeners tell me stories about losing their homes and cars because their identity was stolen and their lives were changed forever.
Reprinted from Car Pro.