The Equifax data breach has exposed Social Security numbers (SSNs), names, birth dates, addresses, and other personal data of more than 143 million Americans. The risks of identity theft will continue for years, so you need to take immediate steps to protect yourself now and for the future. Here are five steps that you can take to protect yourself.
- Set credit freezes or fraud alerts
Since the Equifax breach, many experts have recommended freezing credit reports to block new activity such as credit applications or loans in your name. You would need to set freezes at all of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), and some experts recommend setting freezes at the smaller bureau Innovis as well. Each bureau charges a $5–$10 fee to set up a freeze and another to take it off again when you apply for a loan, credit card, student financial aid, etc. Equifax is offering free credit freezes for a limited time, but the other bureaus still charge fees. If you aren’t currently applying for loans, credit, or financial aid, go ahead and set a freeze. While some experts think the Equifax breach exposed enough personal information for criminals to unfreeze people’s accounts, a freeze could slow down thieves enough to make them look elsewhere.If you know your financial life depends on vendors checking your credit file, whether for car or student loans, home buying or applying for credit cards, you can still place a 90-day fraud alert on your reports with each of the credit bureaus instead of the credit freeze, which locks out those vendors. You would need to replace the alert every 90 days, but if you did become a victim of identity theft, you could file for a seven-year fraud alert.
- Order credit reports
You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the major credit bureaus, including Innovis. This is an essential tool for early detection of identity theft, and it isn’t difficult to do, so order a report every quarter from one of the credit bureaus and read it for any signs of fraudulent activity. Make it a habit, like changing your passwords or paying your bills.
- Change important passwords
Update passwords and security questions on all of your financial accounts, including student loan accounts, government benefit accounts, and even medical portals that you may use to review and pay bills. If any of these accounts support 2-factor authentication such as fingerprint ID via your mobile phone, set that up.
- Clear your cookies
Criminals may also use the stolen information from the Equifax breach for phishing scams, such as posing as a bank using a stolen SSN in order to get you to reveal your bank account password. They could also use “cookies” stored in your browser to get additional personal information to help with identity fraud, so it’s a good idea to periodically use your browser’s security tools to clear the cookies and cache. We suggest doing this simple task immediately.
- Sign up for identity protection that includes recovery
The Equifax data breach shows that the risk of identity theft is becoming a fact of life. Just like the aftermath of a home or auto accident, recovery from identity theft takes time, energy, and skills that most of us don’t have, so it makes sense to have insurance. Identity protection coverage such as MyIDCare helps ensure a speedy and complete recovery. Coverage includes monitoring your credit files and the Dark Web for signs of fraudulent activity and—most important— the services of an expert recovery advocate who will work with businesses and credit bureaus to restore your identity to pre-theft condition.
This story continues to evolve daily and we’re committed to providing all the information you need to protect you and your family the right way. This article is currently the second of five with more coming soon. After you’ve read this article, you can also read: