You may have read that hackers broke into the Equifax database and stole personal information tied to 143 million people. The hackers accessed people’s 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. There is no reason to think that data is not for sale to criminals who can use it to open new lines of credit or file phony tax refund requests in people’s names.
The company compounded its public relations nightmare by sending people to a website to find out if they were affected and then including language so that anyone signing in to get this information had to waive any right to join a class action suit against the company should their identities be stolen and financial harm come to them.
The negative publicity forced Equifax to delete the waiver, but when you sign into the web page to find out if you were affected (the link is here: https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html), the site requests the last six digits of each person’s Social Security number. Unfortunately, guessing the first three digits isn’t as hard as you might think since different regions of the country use pre-assigned digits. If you’re still worried about Equifax’s data security, then the company’s request for additional personal information is worrisome.
To contain the potential damage when a data breach occurs, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends that you take several steps immediately. First, under Federal law you’re allowed to request a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies:
You can do this at www.annualcreditreport.com every 122 days by rotating among the agencies. Look for suspicious accounts or activity that you don’t recognize—such as someone trying to open a new credit card or apply for a loan in your name. If you do see something, visit http://www.Identitytheft.gov/databreach to find out how to mitigate the damage.
How To Monitor Your Statements
Then monitor your online statements. The credit report won’t tell you if there’s been money stolen from a bank account or suspicious activity on your credit card. Unfortunately, you’ll have to turn this into a habit. In most cases, theft happens over time, starting with small amounts stolen from across your accounts.
How To Freeze Your Accounts
Place a credit freeze and or fraud alert on your account with all the major credit bureaus. You can activate a fraud alert free of charge by contacting one of the credit agencies, which is required to notify the other two. This will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you. The fraud alert can usually be setup online and will last for 90 days with an option to renew. These fees commonly range from $0 to $15 per bureau.
How To Monitor Your Credit
Many Americans have opted to sign up for a credit monitoring service, which is what I do and I receive an email whenever someone applies for credit in my name. This won’t prevent fraud from happening, but will alert you when your personal information is being used or requested. In most cases there is a cost involved, but Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier business. It includes identity theft insurance and it will also scan the Internet for use of your Social Security number, assuming you trust Equifax with this information after the breach.
How To Opt Out Of Prescreened Offers
There’s one last way you can protect yourself. ID thieves like to intercept offers of new credit sent via postal mail. If you don’t want to receive prescreened offers of credit and insurance, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com.
Or you can opt out permanently online at www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return a signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.
No one should be surprised that their personal information is out there. Protecting yourself needs to become a habit.
For other ways to protect your identity visit our Identity Protection sectionIdentity Protection, In the News