Still confused after Equifax data breach? 9 steps to protect yourself

Credit rating company Equifax revealed Sept. 7 that its databases had been hacked.

Credit rating company Equifax revealed Sept. 7 that its databases had been hacked.

Equifax’s massive data breach sent people into a panic about the release of their personal information, leading many to frantically check their credit history and comb their credit card statement.

According to Equifax, as many as 143 million Americans had their personal information compromised in the latest online hack.

These hackers obtained information such as addresses, driver’s license numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers and social security numbers.

Many consumers rushed to put credit holds and freezes on their accounts, but were unable to do so because of the overtaxed websites.

Equifax and the other two credit reporting companies, Transunion and Experian now say the websites are working better.

Who is affected?

Anyone who has applied for a student loan, car loan, home loan, credit card or been referred to a collection agency and has a credit history could be affected by the data breach. In the United States, there are three credit reporting companies who collect this information: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

There are steps that credit specialists suggest could help protect consumer’s identities and financial accounts:

  1. Contact one of the credit reporting companies and review your free credit report. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). You can request a copy at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Monitor your accounts for any unusual activity. Accounts on your credit reports that you didn’t open, incorrect personal information on your credit reports, and credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted are all potential signs of fraud or identity theft.
  3. Determine if your information may have been exposed. Go to Equifax’s website and enter the last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by the data breach.
  4. Enroll in credit monitoring. There are numerous companies such as Lifelock, Identity Guard and Identity Shield that offer a variety of credit monitoring services for a fee. U.S. Equifax consumers (whether affected by the breach or not) are eligible for year of free credit monitoring through Trusted ID.
  5. Consider placing a credit freeze. Placing a credit freeze on your reports makes it more difficult for a thief to open a new account in your name. Remember that a credit freeze cannot prevent a thief from making changes to your existing accounts.
  6. Consider setting a fraud alert. This requires creditors to verify your identity before issuing a credit card, opening a new account or increasing a credit limit on an existing account. A fraud alert will not prevent a lender from opening credit in your name the same way a freeze does, but it does require lenders to take additional steps to verify your identity first.
  7. Be aware of phishing emails that impersonate banking institutions. Since the Equifax breach there has been a spike in bank-impersonation phishing attacks. Financial institutions typically don’t ask users to download attachments. Call your financial institution directly, don’t use links for numbers or websites.
  8. Set up alerts with your financial institution for messages when your ATM card is used, a sizable purchase is being made or money is being transferred from your account.
  9. Be careful with passwords. Avoid using names information thieves may be able to discover by stalking you on social media or hacking into your email. Password cracking algorithms assemble old phone numbers, relatives, pet’s names, birthdays, schools, addresses and then combine them with the most common passwords, so the further you can get from what is normal the more secure you are. Try several randomly chosen words. Use a dictionary or book and really make it random and throw in a few special characters.

To freeze your credit, contact each of the credit bureaus using these phone numbers: Equifax: 1-800-349-9960, Experian: 1‑888‑397‑3742 or TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872.

To set a fraud alert, contact just one of the credit card bureaus and ask for an initial fraud alert. Once the alert is set, it will last 90 days. After that, you’ll have to renew it. Here are the appropriate phone numbers for the bureaus (remember, just call one): Equifax: 1-888-766-0008, Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289.

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