September 19, 2017 — Last week we found out that one of the nation’s largest credit monitoring services, Equifax, had been hacked. The credit records of 143 million Americans were compromised, including in most cases their social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, credit ratings and sometimes a lot more – basically the keys to the scamming kingdom. Since then the company is being investigated because there was an earlier hack not disclosed, and corporate insiders might have traded ahead of the public release of information.
If you have been wondering if you were one of those whose
credit info is now available to the highest underworld bidder – yes you probably were. After all the U.S. population is 323 million, so statistically you have just under a 1 in 2 chance of being affected. This article will show how to find out for sure, and what to do.
Find out if your information was exposed
The Federal Trade Commission is providing some useful on this hack at Equifax Data Breach, What to Do. It provides a link at Equifax to where you can determine if your data was affected. Once you get there:
Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach (if you are curious, yes, your Editor’s record was breached).
Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services from Equifax. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Of course if you take advantage of the Equifax free monitoring service it means you are trusting them not to blow it again. Many people have reservations about doing that.
Here are some other options the FTC is recommending:
– Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
– Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You can lift the freeze if you want to apply for a new credit card or loan, and then reinstate if after you are approved.
– Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize. Opt for a text message alert every time your card is used.
– If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
– File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS (but never phone calls, people who call you saying they are the IRS are scammers).
Other fraud tips
Unfortunately, guarding against fraud is now a full-time job in the Internet age. In other articles we provide some other ideas on how to protect yourself (see end of article).
Autopays. Putting as many of your recurring bills on autopay is a great convenience, particularly if you travel a lot or are a snowbird. A friend told us about a really great idea to dedicate a separate credit card for those payments. You never take the card out of the house, so the chances of this card getting hacked are lower. Then you can avoid the problems we have had when we had to contact and change the credit card for every one of our online payments, sometimes getting late fees along the way or declined charges. Another idea is to use autopay using ACH withdrawals from your bank account, which is less likely to get hacked.
Comments? Do you have tips on what to do about the Experian breach, or other ideas on how to avoid fraud. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.