Hurricane Harvey and Irma aren’t the only $hit storms we’ve seen lately. Late last week, Equifax, one of the major three credit reporting agencies, dropped a huge news-bomb on Americans. Equifax told us that during a data breach between this past May through July, cyber-thieves stole the personal information of approximately 143 million Americans.
There was some initial confusion (PR nightmare) regarding Equifax’s website they created for consumers to see if their information was compromised and the rumors started to flow. Check out this link to see fact-checked rumors.
Was Your Info Compromised?
Yes, probably. Go to www.equifax.com to learn more about the breech or skip to the chase and go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/. It will ask for your last name and the last six digits of your social security number (SSN). Many tech experts say that this breech is extremely severe since Equifax is requesting the last six digits of your SSN instead of the traditional four digits to verify a person’s identity.
Equifax will then ask you to enroll in their credit monitoring service, TrustedID Premier. Due to a huge backlash, Equifax quickly revised their terms & conditions with TrustedID Premier enrollment. One of the updates is that you will not have to enter your credit card information.
I’m still on the fence, leaning toward the not going to enroll with TrustedID Premier route. However, I have or plan on taking these seven steps instead. Many of these I’ve recently completed because my accounts were recently hacked. Read about it here, it was no fun.
Check Your Credit Reports Now.
Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and pull your three FREE credit reports and go over them with a fine tooth comb. Chances are, you won’t see any activity this early. Set a reminder on your calendar and pull your reports every year.
Set up E-mail and Text Reminders on Your Accounts
On all your banking, investing, and credit card accounts, make sure that you have automatic notifications via text or e-mail set- up and that your contact information is up to date. If thieves do try to break into your account, you may get an early head’s up from your account alerts.
Beef up Your Current Passwords
Don’t be lazy, beef up your passwords on your main e-mail, banking, and phone accounts. Also, don’t use the same passwords for all your accounts and avoid using Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like your birth year for your ATM PIN or your dog’s name for your e-mail password.
Add a Phone Password to Your Accounts if Possible
After I was hacked, I added a “secret phone password’ to my banking and cellular phone accounts. Now, if I want to access my account information over the phone, I have to verbally say and spell my secret password before the customer service representatives will work with me. Doesn’t mater if thieves have my SSN, they will need my phone password to crack into my account.
Enroll in a Credit Monitoring Service
Whether you choose to use Equifax’s TrustedID Premier or another free service like CreditKarma.com or via USAA, if you are a member, receiving your monthly credit score will also help you keep a watchful eye that nothing wacky is going on with your credit. You may even want to consider paying extra for an Identity theft service.
Freeze Your Credit
If don’t plan on opening any new credit for a while, consider freezing your credit reports, so no new and unauthorized credit can be opened in your name. You need to make this request at each of the 3 major credit bureau agencies. Request a freeze online or by calling the agencies. You will get a randomized PIN to allow you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports. On September 12th, Equifax said it would waive all fees until Nov. 21 for people who want to freeze their Equifax credit files.
When it comes times to lift the freeze, the costs are nominal and sometimes free but do vary state by state. Remember that a freeze only projects new credit from being opened, it does not project your current credit.
File Your Taxes Early
As soon as you have all the information you need, file your taxes. Do it before a thief who has your SSN does it for you and steals your refund.
The major bummer in all of this is that you can’t just stop using Equifax because you are upset with how they handled your sensitive data. Equifax customers aren’t really customers by choice but rather by force.
The 2017 Equifax breach is the largest data breach for consumers to date because of the shear volume of information compromised. We won’t know for several months and then years the severity of the breach and the outcome of how the stolen information is used. Hackers and thieves are getting smarter and more tech savvy. Guard your data and be vigilant in how you use and monitor it.