It appears that my social security number was hacked during the recent Equifax Data breach, and I am not alone. It is estimated that the sensitive private information of more than 143 million Americans was accessed during the breach. For me, it is just another reminder to ‘keep watch’ over my credit as it is entirely likely that my private information is now in the open. I don’t want to be fearful, but I do want to be smart. Just like I lock my doors at night to keep my home safe, I’ve taken a few steps to help protect my identity. If you have also been impacted here are some practical steps that you can take right now to help make yourself more secure.
Equifax has set up a website that will allow you to research whether your information was hacked. The site also prompts you to sign up for their free credit monitoring, which will at least provide you notices of new accounts being opened in your name. While monitoring is good, I would suggest you take these additional steps.
Go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report detailing the credit activity under your social security number. This report is more than just a score; it lists all of the accounts open in your name, and the activity in each. Review the activity and look for accounts you don’t recognize. If so, contact the credit agency immediately.
A credit freeze is a tool that will restrict access to your credit report, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Admittedly, placing a credit freeze on your account can be a hassle since you will not be able to open new credit cards or loans without first temporarily unfreezing your credit, but this is a very effective tool to keep identity thieves from even getting started.
To place a credit freeze on your account you will need to contact each of the credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Essentially each reporting agency will send you a unique PIN that you will need to ‘unfreeze’ your credit each time you need a loan. You can learn more about freezing your credit here.
If you don’t want to go as far as placing a credit freeze on your accounts, you can place a ‘fraud alert’ on your account. A fraud alert makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name since it requires creditors to verify your identity before any accounts are opened. Fraud alerts can be for 90 days or be extended for 7 years. Since I know that my information has been accessed and since I don’t often open new credit reports, I have personally opted for the ‘credit freeze’ rather than the ‘fraud alert’ since I believe the ‘freeze’ offers more protection. You can learn more about placing a fraud alert on your account here.
By taking these prudent steps, you can sleep better at night knowing that you are protected. If you have any questions, please feel free to call anytime.
Gressin, Seena. "The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do." Federal Trade Commission. Sept. 8, 20017. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do