You’ve probably heard about the recent security breach of Equifax, one of the United States’ three official credit bureaus, and how your data has most likely already been compromised. This is alarming news. What are next steps you can take to protect yourself? Anne Marie Stonich, Managing Director of Financial Planning at Paracle Personal Financial Management, has this to say:
“The recent security breach at Equifax has once again raised concerns regarding protecting your personal data. If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed. That’s nearly ½ of the US population! Here are the facts, according to Equifax: The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people.
What should I do now?
As an initial step, we recommend you obtain and review your credit report, which is provided free on an annual basis (as a general rule, we recommend you do this every year). Go to:
annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit reports from all 3 credit bureau’s: Equifax, Experian, Transunion. If you prefer, you can do so over the phone by calling 1-877-322-8228. Review each report to make sure everything looks legitimate. If you find something you don’t recognize, call the company listed on the report to investigate.
What additional steps can I take?
If you don’t anticipate taking out new credit cards or loans, putting a freeze on your credit is an additional step that you can take that will provide a higher level of safety. There is a $10 fee for each of the three bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), unless you can prove you are a victim of ID theft or if you’re over the age of 65 in which case it is free. The freeze isn’t 100% fail-safe as some accounts can be opened without pulling credit; however, it’s a good start.
To put the freeze in place, you’ll need to contact each of the bureaus individually. Here is information from the Washington State office of the Attorney Generals providing the contact info for each bureau as well as instructions for how to lift the freeze should you need to allow access for your credit to be pulled in the future: http://www.atg.wa.gov/security-freeze-procedures .
After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
What if putting a freeze on your credit isn’t practical for you?
We recommend, in addition to running your free annual credit reports, that you consider an identity theft protection service, such as Lifelock. These services cost between $10 – $30/month for each individual, but offer many services if your identity is stolen in addition to ongoing monitoring.
What about children?
Children under 16 most likely will not have a credit score (although this can vary state by state). However, it is a good idea to check by running a free annual credit report using their social security number. If they do have a credit file, you can take the steps above for them as well. A helpful resource from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is:
The steps listed are something you must do on your own. During the process, you will be asked questions that only you will know the answer to and it’s also important that nobody have your PIN other than you. If married, both spouses will need to go through the various steps.
In addition to the specific actions recommended above in response to the Equifax breach, there are many other practical ways to guard your identity on a daily basis. Here is a link to a short Perspectives article we have prepared on this topic: How to Guard Against Identity Theft
As is evidenced by this security breach, we cannot simply rely upon others to protect our information for us. Unfortunately, the “safe” assumption needs to be that your information isn’t safe. While there is no 100% guarantee of keeping your information safe, we hope the steps above will help you protect yourself from identity theft.”
Thank you, Anne Marie. Taxpayers–I highly encourage you to take these steps to protect yourselves. It might be a pain now, but it’s much easier to be proactive than to have to deal with the consequences of identity theft later.