The first step to take after the Equifax breach is to sign up for a 24/7 credit monitoring so you can find out right away if someone has opened an account in your name. This should be a free service. Unfortunately, moments like this are when ‘scammy’ monitoring services are advertised, so don’t fall for them.
Another step you can take is to enable two-factor authentication on your mobile phone, this way you can use this as another layer of protection when logging into your accounts.
While it may not be necessary now since the breach seemingly occurred months ago, placing a freeze on your credit report is also an option. This way, your credit report cannot be accessed without your express permission, making it nearly impossible for someone to open an account in your name.
It’s paramount that you never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information.
For more advice you can visit our identity theft guide here: https://wallethub.com/edu/iden
tity-theft/17120/, as well as step-by-step actions you should take if your identity is stolen: https://wallethub.com/edu/step s-to-take-after-identity-theft /17040/.
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Anyone who’s Social Security number has been compromised should consider freezing their credit reports at all three bureaus. That typically prevents a criminal from opening new credit accounts in their names. But it’s not always the best solution because credit freezes involve costs and hassle. If you apply for credit, you’ll have to get the freeze temporarily lifted. Credit freezes typically cost $3 to $10 per bureau to place and remove. The fees can get pretty onerous if you regularly open new credit, bank or brokerage accounts, or need to apply for a job, an apartment, cell phone service, utilities or insurance, since all those situations can involve a credit check.
Also, a credit freeze won’t prevent other types of crimes, such as using your information to get medical care.
If you decide against a freeze, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports at all three bureaus, monitor your credit score and make sure to get your free annual credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.co
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The bad news is Equifax is a failed experiment. This is the third time they’ve been hacked and this one is one of the worst data breaches in history. Now they want you to sign up for their free monitoring. No, thanks. They collect your data without your permission, use it for their profit, and then don’t protect it. That’s simply awful. Here’s the good news: You can get good identity theft protection. Remember you don’t want to get just monitoring, you want someone who has a caseworker that takes over all the work and handles cleaning up the mess if someone uses this information to steal your identity to open up accounts.
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Typically, security breaches end up hitting a small percentage of the population. But when Equifax, a massive company responsible for keeping track of our most sensitive data, gets hacked, its effects are felt across the country. In total, 143 million — nearly half the U.S. — may have had their data stolen in the Equifax hack. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.
1. Monitor Your Credit
Sure, Equifax started offering its Trusted ID credit monitoring service for free after the hack, but the signup process has been tedious and glitch — I am over a week in and still have yet to get it to work. So, we suggest signing up for one of the many other free services, like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma, in the interim. These may not have all the features Trusted ID has, but they will help you keep an eye on things while Equifax works out its kinks.
2. Lock it Down
If you’re not in the process of getting credit, like waiting to close on a house or car shopping, put a lock or freeze on your credit. All three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, offer this, but they all require a paid subscription, except Equifax. If you lock your credit profile, no new credit will be issued in your name without you contacting the credit bureau yourself to have it unlocked. This is the only surefire way to keep hackers out.
3. Remember, There is No End Date
These hackers have all your personal information and can use it at any time — even a decade down the road. So don’t become complacent after a year or two and let your guard down. Remain on top of your credit profile and plan to keep things on lock for the foreseeable future.
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There are 5 steps I recommend that those affected by the Equifax breach:
Request a Free Copy of Your Annual Credit Report: If you find inaccurate information, contact the companies listed on the credit report(s) directly. You can also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit, at (888) 400-5530 to assist you.
Place an Extended Fraud Alert or Security Freeze on Your Credit: Creditors will still have access to your credit file, even though you’ve placed a 7-year extended fraud alert, but must first contact you to verify your identity before extending credit. A credit freeze is a tool. It generally prevents creditors from accessing your credit file. To request one, you must call each credit bureau directly. Laws vary. It’s also important for consumers to know that the personally identifiable information that was part of the Equifax data breach has elevated consumer risk well outside of credit fraud (credit fraud is only 28% of the identity theft risk). Consider also signing up for an identity theft protection service to help protect you and your family against the other 72% of ID fraud.
Contact the Social Security Administration: Request a copy of your wage-earning report to verify that your social security number is not being used fraudulently, which could result in your owing taxes for wages earned by someone who’s stolen your information.
Contact Your Health Insurance Carrier: Request a copy of your health insurance statement in order to identify any fraudulent medical claims.
If You Confirm that You’re A Victim of Identity Theft, Create An Identity Theft Report With The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Expect law enforcement to request a copy of this report when you contact them.
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There are several initial steps that you can take following the Equifax data breach.
First, visit Equifaxsecurity2017.com to check whether you data has been compromised. According to Equifax, from a secure computer, you can enter your last name and last six digits of your social security number to verify whether your data has been affected.
Second, visit Annualcreditreport.com to obtain a free copy of your credit reports from each of the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You should review your credit report for any errors or suspicious activity, and report them to the appropriate credit bureau so they can be corrected.
Third, consider setting up fraud alerts and potentially a credit freeze if it makes sense for your personal financial situation. If you plan to borrow credit or refinance a loan in the near-term, a blanket credit freeze may not be practical, so you have to evaluate your personal financial situation.
Fourth, review your bank and credit card statements for any suspicious transactions.
Fifth, while Equifax is offering one year of credit monitoring, consider ongoing credit protection measures for longer-term protection.
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One thing consumers should not do in response to the Equifax breach is panic. Instead, they should take time to form a comprehensive credit monitoring and management plan to ensure that they don’t suffer because of this–or any other–breach.
First, consumers should check in with Equifax and sign up for the free credit monitoring service they’re offering. Then, they should proceed to keep a very close watch on their accounts and credit reports. But they shouldn’t necessarily jump to steps like freezing their credit, which can be expensive. It’s best to keep this step as a last resort if you find that you actually are seeing fraudulent information on your accounts.
And consumers also shouldn’t assume they need to pay through the nose to keep an eye on their credit scores. Even free sites like Credit Karma and Quizzle will help them note any new activity on their credit reports. They can check for credit card fraud with existing accounts on their own with a simple monthly review of their credit card statements.
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There are a few steps that people can take now that the Equifax breach has been made public. First, you could find out if you are, in fact, a victim of the breach. One of the only ways to do this is by going to the website that Equifax set up (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) and put in your last name as well as the last six digits of your social security number. Although putting down the last six digits instead of four digits of your social security number is never advised, this may be the fastest way to find out if you are a victim of the breach. The other way to discover if you were a victim is by receiving a confirmation letter in the mail from Equifax telling you that you were affected.
Second, if you were a victim of the breach (or if you do not know if you were a victim yet), then freezing your credit should give you some time to work out a plan and/or help secure yourself from identity theft damages for the time being. This step can be rather inconvenient because you must unfreeze your credit each time it needs to be ran or if you need to use your credit to make large purchases/take out loans. Freezing and unfreezing credit can also cost you money, which is something to keep in mind if this step is something you’re interested in.
Third, you should look into hiring an identity theft protection service. Whether you were a victim of the breach or not, getting the aid of a professional identity theft company will help you detect any fraudulent activity that may be surrounding your private information. Reliable identity theft companies will monitor your private data 24/7, notify you immediately if there are any potential threats, allow you to see your account at any time, and will help you recover if your identity is stolen while you are using their services. Although you can try to monitor things like your credit reports by yourself, having the help of an identity theft service will be much more effective and will save you a significant amount of time and energy.
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For consumers wanting to protect themselves after the Equifax hack, I ask them to start by reviewing credit reports from the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Look for suspicious activity — like purchases you don’t recognize — or accounts you don’t recognize. Review all your correspondence, even if you think it’s junk mail, to see whether anyone is ordering goods under your name. Next, open a credit monitoring service through one of the bureaus and check it regularly for fraudulent activity. Finally, place a fraud alert on your account at your bank. I did that during a case of identity theft a while back and it stopped the scammer who had opened an account in my name from going on more shopping sprees.
Ms. Diana Hembree is senior director of content at MoneyGeek.com and a regular contributor to Forbes.com. She is a former senior editor at Time Inc and a former longtime news editor and reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting (now Reveal). She was an associate producer of the award-winning PBS/Frontline documentary The Great American Bailout and has written for the Washington Post, the Times of London syndicate, and many other outlets. And … you will really love her articles!!! Follow Diana at https://twitter.com/legacyreporter.