Surprise, surprise. A huge American company was the victim of a massive cyber attack. This may seem like a common occurrence in today’s digital life, but this one is pretty severe. Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States, suffered a breach of data which resulted in the sensitive personal information of approximately 143 million consumers to be obtained by hackers. This information includes names, birth dates, addresses, and Social Security Numbers.
Given the large number of people affected, major news outlets have been reporting on the breach non-stop. While most people are concerned (and rightfully so), CNN reports that many people aren’t doing anything about it.
What’s the Big Deal?
Normally when we think of cyber security we think of convoluted passwords and PIN numbers. Unfortunately, thieves were able to obtain Social Security Numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, home addresses and names. Unlike a password or a PIN, you can’t simply change your Social Security Number if you’ve been affected.
Hackers can sell your information via online marketplaces to criminals who can then use that information for a variety of nefarious purposes. In one of the more common scenarios a criminal could use your info to take out a loan or open a credit card. You, not the criminal, would be responsible for paying it back. A victim in this situation can have their credit destroyed. This makes everything from buying a house to buying a vehicle virtually impossible.
How Do I Know If I’m Affected?
It is estimated that 143 million people were affected by the Equifax hack. It is important to note that your information may have been compromised even if you’ve never used Equifax before. The company’s response to the hack has been less than stellar, and people are angry. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the information is out there. With roughly half of all Americans potentially at risk, it’s become clear that they are on their own. So what can you do?
First, head to this website. This tool requires you to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You will then receive one of two responses. Either you have not been affected, or you may have been affected. There has been considerable criticism levied at the reliability of this hack checker tool. We recommend that you assume that you have been affected and take the appropriate precautions.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself?
Equifax has enabled people to enroll in their credit monitoring service, TrustedID, for free. This helps consumers determine if their information has been impacted and provides identity theft protection. Equifax is extending this service to all Americans, free of charge, for twelve months.
Of course, you would be trusting the same company who lost your information to begin with to provide you with adequate protection. That being said, it is free and does offer Social Security number monitoring and provides automated alerts of key changes to your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit files.
While free credit monitoring is all well and good, what happens after twelve months? Criminals could simply sit on your data for twelve months before using it. If the Equifax hack has taught us anything it’s that we must be responsible for our own security. So what else can you do?
Get a Credit Report
Request a free credit report from Annual Credit Report. This is the only credit report that matters. You may have seen other credit report services in TV ads, but steer clear of them. Once you receive your credit report, look for any suspicious activity. This includes things like bank accounts being opened, loans being issued in your name, etc.
If you do suspect that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, it is also recommended that you file a police report.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit
A fraud alert requires creditors to verify your identity before opening a new credit card or account or increasing a credit limit. It’s important to note that this doesn’t completely prevent a lender from opening credit in your name. It does, however, require lenders to take additional steps to verify your identity first.
In order to place a fraud alert on your credit, head to one of the three credit bureaus using the links above. You only have to do it with one of them, as they are required by law to report to the other two. That being said, it’s a good idea to verify that they’ll actually do it. Be aware that a fraud alert only lasts ninety days, so don’t forget to renew it.
Freeze Your Credit
Freezing your credit can be classified as the “nuclear” option, but it provides the most security. Unfortunately, freezing your credit means dealing with customer service agents at all three credit bureaus. This would be a headache on a normal day, but after the Equifax debacle, it’s bound to be a nightmare.
Freezing your credit is exactly what it sounds like. No account, credit card, loan, etc., can be made in your name at all. This prevents criminals from using your name, but it also makes your life harder. This is because every time you want to open a new account or similar you’re going to have to “thaw” your credit. In order to do so, you’re going to have to keep track of a unique pin number issued by each credit bureau. In addition, there are fees associated with freezing and un-freezing your credit in many states. Before you take this admittedly drastic step, make sure you completely understand what it entails.
The Equifax hack is serious, but it certainly won’t be the last. It is important that you understand the severity of these incidents as well as how to protect yourself. Are you concerned with the Equifax hack? What are you doing to protect your identity? Let us know in the comments!