The recent breach of data by hackers who stole 143 million sets of personal information from Equifax is a reminder to us all that our personal information simply is not safe in the digital age. According to Equifax, the hackers accessed Social Security numbers, birth dates, names, addresses and even some driver’s license numbers. It is not known what the hackers will use the information for, but typical activity is to open credit cards and bank accounts, take out loans, and commit insurance fraud or steal tax refunds. Other than checking the Equifax website to find out if you were affected (https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html ) here are a few recommendations to protect yourself and your data in response to this particular hack:
1. Check your credit report.
Review your credit reports for any suspicious activity, such as accounts you didn’t open, late payments on loans you don’t have, and any other activity that looks unusual. The US government guarantees everyone a free annual credit report from the three major bureaus. For more information on this program:
2. Monitor your credit card activity closely
At the very least, you should monitor your account statement monthly as soon as you receive it. Most major credit cards will allow you to set up other warning alerts for suspicious activity. You can also view your activity daily on your credit card’s website to identify unknown charges as quickly as possible.
3. Report and take action against identity theft as quickly as possible
The FTC has a good guide about what to do if you believe your identity has been stolen:
4. Freeze your credit or set a fraud alert on opening new accounts
To freeze your credit, contact each of the credit bureaus for a PIN using these phone numbers:
The process is usually automated, so you just need to make sure to write down the PIN in a secure place. Once you freeze your credit, you (or someone pretending to be you) will need to provide the PIN to open a new credit card.
You can contact just one of the credit card bureaus to set a fraud alert, and it will last for 90 days. When a fraud alert is set, credit card companies will be required to verify your identity to open an account.
5. Watch your tax return and review letters from the IRS
Identity thieves have been known to use stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and receive refunds. Do pay attention to letters from the IRS, and respond to any unusual notices regarding your taxes.
One last thought is to be patient with those of us who try to protect your identity. This massive breach is not the first or last of its kind, and are good reminders why we don’t take trade orders by e-mail, why two-factor authentication is important, and why we need data encryption software. For more tips, you can read a blog I wrote last year about protecting your assets: