By now, most of you have heard about the Equifax data breach. It is estimated that 143 million Americans were affected by this data breach so even if you weren’t affected, chances are you know someone who was.
Equifax has a tool on their website that allows you to check and see if your data was compromised. I do not recommend using this tool for a couple of reasons:
First, when I attempted to use this tool I either couldn’t reach the website or my antivirus software flagged it as a potentially unsafe website. I don’t think I want to be entering my name and SSN on their site until they have their security issues resolved (if even then).
Second, you should assume that your data was compromised regardless of what any tool tells you. Even if your data wasn’t compromised this time, online fraud is on the rise, so it’s better to be prepared for a potential data breach whether you were impacted by the Equifax data breach or not.
To that end, here are some things you can do to monitor and protect your credit:
1. Immediately obtain a credit report from one of the three credit bureaus (Trans Union, Experian, Equifax) and review it carefully to see if you have already fallen victim to abuse or ID theft. You can do this at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
2. Resolve to obtain another credit report from a different bureau in 2 months and again in January 2018 (from the third bureau).
3. Sign up for credit monitoring. Equifax has offered to provide free credit monitoring, but there are other services if you aren’t comfortable using Equifax.
4. Place alerts on your credit card accounts so that you are getting routine email updates about CC balances and transactions. Read the updates as they come in and follow up if something doesn’t seem quite right. (This can be done by logging into your CC online account.)
5. Put a fraud alert on your credit record. Visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs to learn more and how to take this step.
6. Put a freeze on your credit record. The Link in #5 tells how to do this also. Note: unfreezing your credit can be difficult, so make sure this is the right step for you before proceeding. For example, you don’t want to freeze your credit if you are planning on applying for a loan or moving soon (you need your credit for many things, such as setting up utilities at your new home, switching cell phone contracts, applying for a job, etc.).
7. File your taxes as soon as possible next year, especially if you normally get a refund. Tax fraud is on the rise so if your information has been compromised you want to file before a fraudster beats you to it.
I hope this helps. Here are a couple of resources that I recommend reading for more information on protecting yourself from identity theft: