“Cyber criminals have stolen 143 million credit records in the recent hacking scandal at big-three credit bureau Equifax. At this point you have to assume that the bad guys have highly personal information that they can use to trick you. You need to watch out for the following things:
- Phishing emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised
- Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record, or other personal financial information
- Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union
- Fraudulent charges on any credit card because your identity was stolen
Here are 5 things you can do to prevent identity theft:
- First sign up for credit monitoring (there are many companies providing that service including Equifax but we cannot recommend that)
- Next freeze your credit files at the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Remember that generally it is not possible to sign up for credit monitoring services after a freeze is in place. Advice for how to file a freeze is available here on a state-by-state basis: http://consumersunion.org/research/security-freeze/
- Check your credit reports via the free annualcreditreport.com
- Check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity
- If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, here is a site where you can learn more about how to protect yourself: www.idtheftcenter.org. You can also call the center’s toll-free number (888-400-5530) for advice on how to resolve identify-theft issues. All of the center’s services are free.
Keep in mind that personal home owners’ insurance often has a nominal amount of identity theft insurance included. Equifax is offering credit monitoring services, but please note that credit monitoring services do nothing but tell you if something odd is going on with your credit AFTER THE FACT. It is helpful to an extent, but it cannot give you a good night’s sleep.
I personally have found it helpful to subscribe to LifeLock which has given me pro-active warnings on several occassions. There are also other similar services available. Again, that is no assurance of a good night’s sleep.
MOST SCARY PART
Equifax is one of the three places that you are supposed to report your data breach information to protect you — but they got breached, took more than a month to notify the public, and there are allegations that executives sold stock before announcing the breach. In short, if they are supposed to protect your best interests — they failed. You can be sure that the bad guys will try to hack Experian and TransUnion as well, and there is no way to be certain that they will not succeed there as well. So, just where is your private information safe?