Think about how little you’ll sleep at night knowing that the Equifax data breach put the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers of 143 million people into the hands of hackers. The hack also gave those thieves the credit card numbers of another 209.000 consumers. Don’t take chances. There are steps you can take right now if you think you may be one of the 143 million whose personal information has been exposed.
- Set up a fraud alert on your credit
You can get a fraud alert on your credit reports for free by contacting one of the three credit agencies. That agency then is required to inform the other two credit agencies. You’ll be contacted if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. The alert will last for 90 days, and you can renew it. You should also set up fraud alerts for credit and debit cards with your bank or credit union.
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements
Get in the habit of carefully checking your bank account and credit card statements regularly for any suspicious activity. Thieves usually start by taking small amounts and first and then graduating to larger amounts over time if they’re not caught. Reviewing account statements is important because your credit report won’t tell you if there’s money stolen from your bank account or suspicious activity on your credit card.
- Check your free credit reports
See if anyone is trying to open a new credit card or apply for a loan in your name. You can do this by getting a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Federal law lets you request the report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You may not see any changes immediately since requests take time to appear on your report.
- Sign up for credit monitoring
Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier business to all consumers, not just victims of the breach. You should be aware that Equifax initially required users to give away their rights to legal action and agree to use arbitration to settle disputes. The company has since changed the requirement and gives consumers the option to opt out.
The TrustedID Premier monitoring tracks your credit report from not only Equifax but also Experian and TransUnion, and alerts you when a company checks your credit history. They will let you know if someone opens a new credit card or loan in your name.
- Put a freeze on your credit
Asking the credit reporting agencies for a freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. You’ll have to contact the reporting agency to temporarily lift the freeze if you want to take out a loan or open a new credit card, Fees to freeze your account vary by state, but commonly range from $5 to $10.