Yesterday (Sept. 7) Equifax, one of the three major US credit bureaus, reported a security breach that may have compromised 143 million customers’ personal data, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers. Equifax found out about the hack on July 29, according to the company, despite only announcing it yesterday. The incident is one of the largest and most threatening cyberattacks that has occurred in recent years and is the third major attack on the company since 2015.
If you have a credit report, there’s a higher-than-50% chance that your data has been affected, Pamela Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group, told the New York Times.
Here are some steps you can take to protect your credit score. We also spoke with an expert about the consequences of not doing anything here.
To check whether you’ve been affected:
1. Check your credit report
Check your credit report with Equifax, as well as Experian and TransUnion, for unauthorized activity. Go to annualcreditreport.com for a free annual credit report for all three bureaus or creditreport.com for a free Experian report that refreshes every 30 days. You may not see suspicious activity yet, given that it’s still in the early days, but stay on the lookout for any accounts you don’t recognize.
2. Monitor your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized activity
3. Sign up for Equifax’s free credit-file monitoring and identity-theft protection service
Equifax has setup a new website, http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to help customers check whether their data has been compromised. You can also use it to sign up for Equifax’s TrustedID Premier service, which the company says will be free to US customers for a year. The service will help you monitor your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports; let you lock and unlock Equifax credit reports; provide identity-theft insurance; and can scan the internet for your Social Security number. (It’s worth noting that by checking your data this way you potentially limit your legal rights.)
To protect yourself and your data:
4. Freeze your credit
A credit freeze is one of the best ways to prevent anyone from opening new lines of credit with your identity. Once your accounts are frozen, you will be given a PIN for unfreezing your account. Contact each credit bureau (numbers & instructions below) and follow their steps. Keep in mind that you also won’t be able to open any credit cards or take out a loan while your accounts are frozen. Unfreezing your credit later could also take time.
5. Set up a fraud alert
You can also contact one of the bureaus to set up fraud alerts, which will require them to verify your identity anytime you or someone else tries to open an account. Once set up, an alert will last 90 days before you need to renew. Together with a credit freeze, alerts will keep your credit extra secure.
6. Take advantage of the Identity Theft Resource Center’s services
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft or want to learn more about securing your data, visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org or call the center’s toll-free number 888-400-5530 for help. All of the center’s services are free.
7. File your taxes early
Identity thieves will often try to use stolen social security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and receive refunds. Prevent this by filing your taxes early. You can use the IRS’s guide on tax fraud to learn what you should do if you become a victim.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that creditreport.com provides free annual credit reports for Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The correct website is annualcreditreport.com. Creditreport.com is owned by Experian and provides customers a free Experian report.