Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, disclosed a data breach on September 7 that affects 143 million people in the US. The stolen data included the consumer’s name, address, date of birth, and social security number. In addition, credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information was also stolen for about 200,000 of the 143 million individuals. The “unauthorized access” was reported to have occurred on July 29, and the investigation is ongoing.
Am I affected?
Equifax created a web site where consumers can find out if they were potentially impacted. Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, and select the “Check Potential Impact” box. You will need to enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. The resulting page will say, “your personal information was impacted,” or “your personal information was not impacted.” While this site was not functioning properly earlier this week, the problems have been reported to be fixed and the response should now be accurate.
How do I protect my identity?
Regardless if you were or were not impacted by this latest data breach, there are steps that you can take to protect your identity and credit. Some common methods you may consider to protect your personal information include:
Regularly obtain and review your credit report – Free credit reports can be obtained once per year by visiting annualcreditreport.com, or calling 1-877-322-8228. This service was implemented by the US Federal Trade Commission as part of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Watch for any recent activity or new accounts, make sure your address and personal information are correct, and find/remove any closed accounts.
Monitor credit card statements – Review and monitor the charges on all credit accounts at least monthly when you receive a statement, or preferred weekly (or more frequently) through online access. Look for unexpected entries and immediately question anything that you don’t recognize.
Consider placing a credit freeze on your files – A credit freeze prevents merchants and credit card companies from pulling your credit report, making it difficult for a thief to open a new account in your name. Implementing a freeze does not prevent charges against existing credit accounts. Freezing your credit can normally be done online with the major credit bureaus. In Illinois, there is a $10 fee to freeze, release, or remove the freeze on your account, UNLESS YOUR INFORMATION IS POTENTIALLY AT RISK. If you were impacted by the Equifax breach, your information is potentially at risk. By obtaining a police report, which is not difficult and can commonly be done online, fees are waived for freezing your account. When you do want to open an account or take out a loan, you will need to manually unfreeze an account to allow the credit check to be performed.
Understand your insurance coverage – Most homeowner plans include some provision for identity theft, and inexpensive supplementary insurance plans are available. The financial protection offered is good, but the assistance offered to restore your credit can be invaluable if you do fall victim.
Credit monitoring – While credit monitoring doesn’t hurt, the service primarily notifies you of suspicious activity on your accounts. The same suspicious activity YOU will notice if you are following these recommendations.