If you’ve got a credit report and live in the United States, you’re probably one of the millions of Americans (145.5 million to be exact) affected by the massive Equifax information breach. And, even though it’s already been over a month since it was announced, a lot of people are still wondering – what does this mean for me?
Ultimately, this breach means you’re going to have to change the way you monitor your accounts and your credit report going forward. Gone are the days of only checking your account balances to make sure you have enough money for your weekend getaway or to see if your paycheck has cleared. Now, you’re going to have to pay a lot more attention to where the money in your account is going. Are all these transactions ones that you made? If you’re already doing that, then great! If not, you’re probably going to want to start paying more attention to the things that are clearing out of your accounts.
The information that was stolen in this breach makes every single person on the list very susceptible to fraud and not just temporarily. Once you’re name, birthdate and social security number are compromised, they’re pretty much compromised for the rest of your life. Which means you’ve got the rest of your life to worry about whether your information is going to be used fraudulently.
Why should you worry about it? Well, if you are the victim of identity theft, here are some of the things that could happen:
- You could have creditors coming after you for huge debts that you didn’t even know existed.
- Your accounts can be drained of all your money without you even knowing it.
- They can use your health insurance in your name to have procedures or surgeries done. Then you get the bill.
- Plus, in almost no time at all, your credit can be turned into complete trash.
- Also, did you know that some companies check your credit score before they hire you? They do.
So, this breach is a big deal. When your identity is used fraudulently, it can literally affect nearly every part of your life.
What should you do if your information is a part of this massive breach?
Here’s what we recommend:
- Check your accounts weekly (at a minimum). Ideally, you should check your accounts every day, but life gets busy. So, check them at least once a week and keep an eye out for any transactions you didn’t make.
- Change your passwords. Make sure all of your accounts with online access have strong passwords. No birthdates, spouse’s names or other information that the hackers may have had access to during the breach.
- Get a copy of your credit report annually and review it carefully. Federal law mandates that you get a free copy of your credit report once a year. You can request your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the official site for receiving your free annual report from the three major credit bureaus. Other sites that claim to offer your “free” credit report may have strings attached to their offers.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring and identity theft resolution service. We offer both credit reporting and identity theft resolution services through ID TheftSmart. The key in mitigating the damage that identity theft can cause is catching it early. And, since you probably don’t have the time or money to monitor your credit report every day for unusual activity, this service does it for you. This service ensures that you’re contacted as soon as something pops up on your credit report that looks suspicious.
- Consider putting a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit file. Both of these have a pros and cons. For those enrolled into the ID TheftSmart program, you can talk to an Identity Theft specialist who will walk you through the benefits and challenges you might face with each option. They can also help you file a credit freeze or fraud alert.
- File your taxes early. As soon as you have all the required documents, file your tax return. Waiting leaves the door open for a fraudster to file for your tax return using your stolen information.
This breach means that everyone affected is going to have to make a lifelong habit out of looking out for fraud. That’s why we encourage you to monitor your accounts and credit reports closely.
For more information on the Equifax breach and how you can protect yourself, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s web site.