Last Thursday, Equifax announced that they had been the victim of a serious cybersecurity breach. Approximately 143 million U.S. consumers' personal information may have been accessed. This hack has affected nearly one half of the U.S. population! It's huge. The information that was accessed included: names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and driver's license numbers. Equifax has also stated that the credit card numbers for almost 209,000 Americans and certain dispute documents with personal information for approximately 182,000 Americans were accessed. This breach occurred from mid-May through July 2017.
Who is Equifax? They are one of the three largest consumer credit reporting agencies in the United States. If you have ever applied for credit or taken out a loan, chances are that the creditor or lender accessed your credit report from Equifax in order to determine your credit worthiness.
So what should you do now? Equifax has set up a website for you to determine if your information was exposed (mine was!). The easiest way to get there is to go to: www.equifax.com. Right there, front and center on their website, is a link to check to see if your information was impacted by this breach. Click on the orange block and you will taken to a page with more information on this data breach. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab near the top of the page and then enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Make sure that you are on secure computer when you enter this information. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach. Regardless if your information was exposed or not, Equifax will provide you with a free year of credit monitoring and other services. You will have to return at a future date to enroll. So, write down the date that you are provided and come back to the website and click “Enroll” on that date. You will have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
According to the Federal Trade Commission's website, here are some additional steps that you can take to protect yourself after a data breach:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - for free - by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate 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. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
- 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.