Updated 9/13/17 to include information from Consumer Reports:
Equifax, one of the large credit reporting agencies in the U.S. recently announced a data breach that may affect 143 million Americans. In case you’re not familiar with the population of the United States, that number is equal to just about every adult who’s ever applied for credit. Initial reports indicate that exposed data may include names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Note that Equifax DOES NOT have access to passwords to your financial accounts.
The Federal Trade Commission posted a helpful article with suggestions on what you can do to help protect your financial data now that the data breach has come to light. However, contrary to their advice that includes entering your personal information to check to see if you’ve been affected by the breach and sign up for free credit monitoring through TrustedID Premier, a 3-bureau credit monitoring service (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) which also is operated by Equifax (yes, the same company that exposed your data in the first place) – security researcher Brian Krebs recommends placing a credit freeze on your file, and further explains how to do it in this article.
Additional information from the FTC includes:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
- If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
- File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
Consumer Reports has updated information on How to Lock Down Your Money After the Equifax Breach.