The massive Equifax breach means consumers need to be on guard against data thieves. The credit-rating company hack earlier this year left approximately 143 million people’s personal information exposed and vulnerable. Here are the steps you take to help protect yourself in the wake of this event.
- Determine the exposure of your information: Go to Equifax’s website here and follow the instructions provided. You’ll need your Social Security number handy to complete the check and to tell if you’ve been impacted by the breach.
- Enroll for free credit monitoring: Regardless of exposure, consumers who have information under Equifax are entitled to free credit monitoring for one year, along with other monitoring and protective services. You can learn more about what is available here.
- Monitor your credit reports and accounts for unusual activity: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting companies, are required to supply you with a credit report free of charge once every 12 months. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request them. Once you have the reports, monitor them to ensure there are no unauthorized accounts, incorrect personal information or credit inquiries you didn’t initiate. These are signs of fraud and you should follow up on them to ensure you weren’t the victim of identity theft.
- Consider implementing a credit freeze: If you see suspicious activity or are highly concerned, you can place a credit freeze to help deter an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name. Visit the consumer information section of the Federal Trade Commission website to learn more about credit freezes and how to activate one.
- Set up fraud alerts: Fraud alerts require potential creditors to verify your identity before they can open an account, issue a new card or increase a credit limit. Remember that fraud alerts won’t necessarily prevent identity theft, but they will make it much harder for someone with your personal information to use it.