What should you do following the Equifax Hack? In short, you need to act now! You should assume that your personal information was among the data hacked during the recent Equifax data breach. Equifax claims that approximately 143 million Americans were affected. This stolen information includes addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and other private information that identity thieves can (and probably will) use to open loans and credit cards in your name, and access your existing accounts to steal your money and rob your identity. You can spend all the time you want pointing fingers at Equifax, and complaining about how bad this situation is, or you can take action now to minimize the potential for damage going forward.
- First, you should go to the website Equifax has created at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and find out if you were affected by the data breach. However, many experts suggest that regardless of what that website claims, you should assume that you are affected.
- Second, sign up for fraud alert with one of the big three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Just go to any of their websites or call them to get the free fraud alert service that usually lasts for 90 days, at which time you’ll need to sign up again. Sign up with one company, and that company will alert the other two for you. However, in reality, fraud alerts won’t do much to protect you. Alerts will only notify you after the fact when someone (usually you, but sometimes a bad guy) takes out a loan in your name (i.e. after the damage is done). But it’s probably better to find out sooner rather than later, and this way you can minimize the damage.
- Next, you should consider preventing the identity thieves from getting the loan in the first place by obtaining a security freeze (or credit freeze) with all of credit bureaus separately. Again, this can be done online or by phone with each company. The freeze will inhibit anyone from pulling your credit report while the freeze is in effect. So when Joe Badguy tries to open a credit card account in your name, they won’t be able to since the card issuer won’t be able to access your credit file and credit score. The problem is that while it makes it nearly impossible for Joe Badguy to get credit in your name, it makes it difficult for you to do so as well. You’ll have to unfreeze your credit file when you want a lender or employer to be able to access your credit info, which you can do online or by phone by supplying the super-top-secret pin number they will provide you. Obviously, you should protect that pin, and whatever you do, don’t lose it!
But you’re not done yet. Consider purchasing a subscription to LifeLock or other similar identity protection service. These aren’t fool proof, but are probably worth it given what’s at stake. Some of what these companies do, you can do for yourself (see steps above), but they can also scan for your info on the dark web (don’t ask, I don’t know what it is either) and monitor 24/7 to provide additional levels of security.
In addition, you should also contact your financial advisor to find out their security policy regarding dispersing funds from your account. At Unified Trust, our security measures include validating any requests for withdrawals with a personal phone call, and we don’t wire money to anyone other than the person(s) named on the account. Finally, don’t forget to check your credit report frequently to look for any suspicious activity.
Whatever you do, take this threat very seriously!
Remember, an ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of the cure.