As you have likely heard, the credit reporting agency, Equifax, recently revealed a huge breach of consumer information. The personal details of 143 million Americans – names, birth dates, social security numbers and addresses, and in some instances, drivers license and credit card numbers – have been compromised, leaving them vulnerable to identity theft.
Although Equifax has a website set up so you can check if your information has been affected, with 143 million Americans’ information breached and only 125 million American households, it’s safe to assume that almost every single person has been affected by this massive cyber security breach.
What Does the Equifax Breach Mean For Me?
Because scammers were able to hack into Equifax’s data, the personal details of millions of Americans have been made available to thieves, scammers and con artists. That leaves you extremely vulnerable to identity theft, including:
- Someone opening a credit card or getting a loan in your name
- Someone using your credit card to make fraudulent charges
- Your bank account being hacked
- Your personal information being used to apply for a job
- Funds from your 401(k), mutual fund or other investment account being stolen
- Someone submitting your tax return and stealing your tax refund
- Someone applying for Social Security or Medicare in your name and stealing your benefits
What Should I Do To Protect Myself?
Consumer Reports lays out five steps every consumer should take to protect themselves and their money. Here’s what you should do:
- Consider a Credit Freeze. You can apply for a credit freeze with each of the major credit reporting companies – Equifax, TransUnion, Experian and Innovis. A credit freeze will stop a thief from opening any new accounts in your name. While it will be a minor inconvenience to you – no more applying for a store credit card when a clerk offers you 20 percent off – it will protect your identity from being used to open new accounts or apply for loans.
- Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit. If you don’t opt for a credit freeze, you should at least place a fraud alert on your credit. A fraud alert indicates to credit card companies or loan providers that you are a victim of identity theft and they should take extra precautions before opening accounts or taking out loans in your name. A 90-day credit alert also allows you to get a free credit report every 90 days so you can keep an eye on your credit score for any potential problems.
- Activate Two-Factor Authentication. For most accounts, all you need to log in is your email and password. But if you enable two-factor authentication, you can make it harder for a fraudster to hack into your account. A common form of two-factor authentication is texting or emailing you a code that you have to type in before you can enter your account. Most financial accounts offer two-factor authentication, so contact your financial institution about how activate it for better security.
- Secure your Email and Social Media Accounts. Although it’s tempting to use the same password for all your online accounts, doing so, or having similar passwords, can leave you vulnerable to hacking. Even complex, strategic passwords can be hacked. Consider using a service like LastPass to manage your passwords, enabling two-factor authentication on your email and learn what you need to look for regarding suspicious emails and text messages.
- File Your Taxes Early. Tax-related identity theft has been on the rise for some time, and this massive breach means it will likely skyrocket this year. To ensure that a scammer doesn’t file your taxes before you have a chance and steal your returns, file your taxes as soon as possible this year. Learn more about tax-related identity theft.
Register for Identity Theft Protection and Credit Monitoring
As a part of the Equifax breach, the company is offering free credit monitoring for all customers. However, identity-theft experts have cast doubt on whether Equifax’s services are strong enough to prevent your identity from being stolen. After all, it’s difficult to trust a company that just experienced a massive breach. Although the steps above will help secure your identity, you should strongly consider getting a third-party credit monitoring service to keep your identity safe.
Luckily, Texas Legal members are eligible for free credit monitoring and identity theft protection through AllClearID. Although all members are eligible for help from AllClearID in response to their identity being stolen, if you want AllClear to prevent identity theft by monitoring your credit card accounts and use of your social security number, you need to sign up. To do that, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our customer service number at 1-800-252-9346.
Keep an Eye Out
One troubling thing about this major breach is that it wasn’t reported until a month after it happened, meaning consumers have been vulnerable without realizing it. And although scammers could be using your information to commit theft right now, they also may do so at any point in the future. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and also why a credit freeze and credit monitoring from a company like AllClearID can be helpful.