The bad news is that there’s a good chance your personal information was stolen during the massive data hack of Equifax, one of America’s three largest credit reporting agency.
The thieves stole the social security numbers, dates of birth, names and addresses of 143 million Americans—that’s about 60% of the adult population of the United States.This is particularly dangerous because with that information, the thieves could steal your identity to take out new loans in your name, alter your existing accounts, and ruin your good credit.
But the good news is…well, there isn’t much good about a hack of this size.
Still, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
Equifax did offer free credit monitoring for a year, but that level of protection likely isn’t enough. The thieves still have your personal information and could use it to apply to lenders who don’t use Equifax. Also, because the thieves have your social security number, they could wait and use it a year or five or ten years from now. Unless America totally changes the system it uses to identify everyone, that still leaves you vulnerable.
Here are some steps you should consider taking, adapted from the Federal Trade Commission’s recommendations:
- Start checking your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You can check each one time a year for free. Space them out in four month intervals, so you’re regularly getting up-to-date information. If you see evidence of identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
The thieves could wait and use your stolen information a year or five or ten years from now.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. A credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts, but implementing a freeze at all three of the major credit bureaus means they won’t be able to issue a report to any company that doesn’t already have you has a customer, making it harder for the thieves to use your information to open a new line of credit. You can unfreeze it with a special PIN when you want to apply for a new loan.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
- File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
By putting a freeze on your accounts, checking your credit reports regularly, and monitoring activity on your existing accounts, you’ll be doing everything you can to protect yourself.