A little over a week ago, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, announced that highly sensitive personal data for approximately 143 million US consumers was possibly compromised. To put that number into perspective, the US population is about 323 million – meaning over 40% of the population could be impacted. If you have any sort of credit, from a car loan to a mortgage to a credit card, there’s a good chance you’ve been effected.
What Information Was Potentially Stolen?
- Social security numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Security questions and answers used to verify identity on some websites
What Can You Do?
While this is not the largest data breach to ever occur (if you remember, 500 million+ Yahoo accounts have been hacked in recent years), it is important to remain proactive and take preventative measures – even if you have yet to receive notification that you were one of the individuals whose information has been compromised. As American consumers, we may not be able to entirely prevent breaches such as this one, but the tips below can help make things a bit less painful:
1. Check your credit report
Take a look at your credit report and keep an eye out for new accounts, late payments, or other information that seems unfamiliar. If you notice any suspicious activity, report it to your credit card company or lender immediately. Keep in mind, the breach initially occurred months before it was officially announced so it’s a good idea to start looking for suspicious activity starting in May.
2. Freeze your credit
By placing a credit freeze on your accounts, you are preventing someone from opening new credit cards in your name. To lift the freeze, you are required to provide the PIN you created when freezing your accounts. To freeze your credit, you may contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
3. Set up a fraud alert
If you have a fraud alert set up, credit companies will be required to verify your identity before opening an account in your name, making it harder for identity thieves to open a fraudulent account. To set up an initial fraud alert for 90 days, simply contact one of the three credit agencies listed above. For added security, you can renew the alert after 90 days.
4. Monitor your accounts and stay diligent
Keep an eye on your credit and bank accounts. Just because nothing has happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen down the road. And while we don’t want to be the ones to bring up the hassle of tax season, it’s important to know that those who steal your identity could use your personal information to file fake tax returns and receive refunds. You can mitigate this risk by filing your taxes early.