Earlier this month, one of the three main credit score calculation organizations in the country announced a data breach that may have affected up to 143 million consumers in the United States.
Equifax has access to a tremendous amount of personal and financial information for nearly every adult in America. The company disclosed a leak that was discovered in late July and may have allowed hackers to obtain names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses as well as driver’s license and credit card numbers.
Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of this data breach is the lasting effects it will have. Information like Social Security numbers, which don’t change, could circulate on the black market for years, according to an article on Wired.com.
How do I know if my information was compromised in the data breach?
Visit this website, offered by Equifax. You can check to see if your data may have been compromised.
Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft insurance that you can (and should) sign up for on that site. If your information could have been compromised in the breach, keep in mind that you might also want to consider paying for additional years of credit monitoring after Equifax’s free year expires. Unfortunately, attackers may have more luck abusing the leaked data after that first year of close monitoring is over and more victims are unmonitored.
What can I do to protect myself from data breaches?
Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer or magic fix. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself is to learn from events like the historic Equifax breach. USA Today advises to actively monitor and guard your credit and personal information.
However, an annual check might not be enough to prevent possible credit and identity theft. ConsumerAffairs encourages awareness and offers a look at several key warning signs.
There are also a variety of credit reporting services available to assist in tracking your personal and financial data. The amount of information you can obtain, ease of use and cost vary greatly depending on the service.
Some services, like MyFico.com, don’t prevent identity theft but provide a comprehensive look at your credit history. It also allows you full awareness of your credit score.
Other services, like LifeLock, provides active credit monitoring as well as scan for potential misuse of your personal information. If your identity is stolen, they assist in addressing the issue.
What else can I do to secure my personal information?
There are several ways to safeguard smarter when it comes to your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission suggests a four-way approach:
- Keep your personal information secure offline. Physically, keep documents containing personal information in a safe, private area. Shred receipts, forms, bank statements, etc. Destroy the labels on prescription bottles. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
- Keep your personal information secure online. Be skeptical of emails and calls – that could be from impersonators of a reputable company or business – requesting personal information. Don’t click on a link in an email to provide requested personal information – call the company and inquire as to whether they sent the request. Wipe mobile phones and personal computer of all personal data before disposing of them. Keep your passwords private. And don’t overshare on social media – hackers can use personal information that you’ve posted to answer “challenge” questions on your accounts. This will enable them to access your personal and financial data.
- Secure your Social Security number. Be smart about sharing your SSN (or your child’s). Ask if you can use an alternate form of identification. If you must use your SSN, inquire as to how it will be used and protected.
- Keep your devices secure. Use security software – anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall. Use a secure wireless network (as opposed to a public wireless network) whenever possible. Keep minimal financial information on your laptop computer. Logoff your laptop whenever you’re finished, too – if stolen, it will be harder for a thief to access your personal information.
There are also companies that specifically monitor your identity. Retirement Living Information Center offers an evaluation of ten identity theft protection providers. ConsumersAdvocate.org offers a look at what they’ve concluded to be the best identity theft protection services. Consumer Affairs offers a similar review.
For a monthly fee, you can receive varying amounts of protection and coverage in the hopes of stopping or minimizing threats to your personal information. There may be no way to completely protect yourself and your identity, but being aware and proactive can decrease your vulnerability.
This information is provided as a public service of the office of Luhrsen Goldberg.