If you have a credit report (and most of us do), there’s a good chance that you were one of the estimated 143 million Americans affected by the recent Equifax Data Breach. If you have been affected, it’s important to be proactive to protect your credit now.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the breach lasted from mid-May through July. Criminals were able to access people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, and even driver’s license numbers. This means that hackers may be able to open up new credit card accounts with your information or make purchases on your existing credit accounts without your knowledge.
Were You Affected?
To see if you were affected by the Equifax breach, you can find out here. Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Even the last digits of your Social Security number are sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
If You Were Not Affected
Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services from Equifax. You can enroll to take advantage of the free services here.
If You Were Affected
If your data was included in the breach, you will need to take steps now to protect your credit. Here’s what I recommend:
- 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 information for one year. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. While a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts, it will help prevent new accounts from being opened.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize. This is yet another reason I recommend setting up a system to track your spending.
- 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, file your taxes before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund. Be sure to review and respond right away to letters from the IRS.
It’s always a good idea to monitor your credit and use identity theft insurance, which will pay to repair your credit if your identity is stolen. To monitor your credit on an ongoing basis, consider using a service like Credit Karma, where you can set up proactive alerts to warn you if there’s a big change on one of your credit reports.
Identity theft insurance provides resources if your identity is stolen. One provider, Zander Insurance Group charges $75 per year and includes:
- $1 Million Stolen Funds Protection
- $1 Million in Reimbursement Protection
- Certified ID Theft Specialists 24/7/365
- Data Breach Notifications & Credit Report Reminders
As always, be mindful of the charges on your credit card and bank accounts. I recommend reviewing all of your charges at least once a month and disputing any charges you do not recognize. If you need help setting up a system to easily track your spending, read more here. Unfortunately, data breaches are becoming more and more common, so it pays to be proactive about protecting your credit score.
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Pathway founder and principal Greg Brown is a fee only financial advisor with broad financial planning and investing expertise. Greg’s financial advice has been featured in publications like Yahoo Finance, Bankrate, Investopedia (all articles here), Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan State University. Prior to Pathway, Greg was a lead analyst at Morningstar and previously held engineering roles at Dell (including a US Patent).
Also published on Medium.