News broke this week of yet another major data breach. Equifax, one of the main credit reporting companies, was hacked back in July and sensitive personal information for more than 143 million Americans was exposed. If a credit report has ever been run for you, chances are strong that your data has been compromised in this hack. The three big credit agencies have a very high duty to keep customer information safe, and they failed outright.
According to Equifax the data breach lasted from mid-May through July. Hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
Equifax has set up a website so that people can check and see if they have been hacked. I strongly urge against this. Equifax’s website is filled with security holes. Their executives reportedly sold Equifax stock in the five weeks between the discovery of this data breach and notifying anyone about it. Equifax is also pushing their own credit monitoring service. Why trust someone twice with your valuable information? This is like asking the guy who robs you at gunpoint to watch your kids for you.
Here’s what the FTC suggests you should do 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.