Believe it or not, there were some non-hurricane news in the last 2 weeks. By now you have probably heard of the massive Equifax hack. If it's starting to sound like a broken record, that is because this is already the 29th large scale data breach of 2017, and we've still got 4 months to go before we hit 2018. Here is what you should know and what you can do about it.
Who is Equifax?
Equifax is a publicly traded (NYSE: EFX), multi-billion dollar company headquartered in Atlanta, GA. With over $3 billion in annual revenue and over 9,000 employees in 14 countries, Equifax is one of the 3 major credit bureaus - the other two being Transunion and Experian. Equifax keeps track of consumer credit and insurance data, and sells it to businesses such as banks who use that information to determine whether or not your mortgage application should be approved and at what interest rate.
On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced that they were the victim of cybercriminal hacking with unauthorized access to the private financial information of ~143 million US consumers. The hack occurred from mid-May through July 2017 and was discovered on July 29, 2017. The information accessed includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information. In short, all the information a cybercriminal will need to steal your identity.
Equifax has launched a dedicated website (https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) to deal with the hack. You can check whether or not you were personally impacted HERE by entering your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Don't hold your breath though, it seems that the only message the website spits out is a generic "Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident."
What you should do
So here are a few additional options you should consider:
- Place a Fraud Alert - allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report if they take steps to verify your identity. For example, calling you on the phone to verify if you actually applied for that fancy new credit card. Placing a Fraud Alert is free. The initial alert lasts for 90 days but can be extended for 7 years.
- Consider a Credit Freeze - this allows you to restrict access to your credit report, which makes it difficult for ID thieves to open new accounts in your name. The problem? It also becomes difficult for YOU to open new accounts in your name. Each time you need to access your credit report, you will need to lift the credit freeze, which may incur a fee.
- Enroll in additional credit monitoring and protection services - Equifax isn't the only game in town. There are a large number of credit monitoring services available. Some are free like CreditKarma and CreditSesame.
- Check your existing accounts closely - Fraud alerts and credit freezes may be great for preventing new unauthorized accounts. But it does nothing to your existing accounts. Be sure to read your bank and credit card statements. Alternatively, consider tracking all of your transactions using an aggregator service such as Mint.com or Personal Capital.
- File your taxes early - as soon as you have all the documents you need. The information identity thieves need to file a fraudulent tax return are exactly the same ones stolen in this Equifax hack. Try to beat the bad guys to the punch.
Unfortunately identity theft is becoming increasingly prevalent in our high-tech lives. There is simply no way to protect yourself 100%. As the Equifax hack has proven, even if you never use your credit card online, the thieves can still get your information from someone else. As all of the options I've listed suggest - to prevent identity theft, your best defense is a good offense.
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