As you’ve no doubt heard by now, a recent data breach at Equifax exposed the personal financial information of millions of Americans. Equifax has now revealed the total number of people impacted by the breach is 145.5 million – that’s 2.5 million more than originally estimated.
So if you have a credit report, chances are high that your information was exposed in this breach. But there are simple steps you can take now to help protect yourself from identity theft:
- Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies to place a freeze on your credit reports:
- If a credit freeze is too restrictive for you, consider implementing fraud alert monitoring with each of the credit reporting agencies. While a credit freeze will simply block attackers from creating new accounts, a fraud alert will alert credit grantors to take extra steps to verify the legitimacy of a request for new credit. A fraud alert can be better solution if you are in the middle of a large purchase, such as a car or home.
- Keep a close eye on your credit reports. The US government guarantees everyone a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies annually, and banks typically offer subscription based credit monitoring and reporting services for their customers.
- Sign up for online accounts with any financial institutions that you associate with to prevent someone with your information from doing the same thing, and look for the ability to use two-factor authentication when signing into these institutions. Also, since you have online access to your financial accounts, keep an eye on them at least weekly to ensure that all transactions are legitimate.
- While you’re at it, create online accounts for Social Security and the IRS to prevent attackers from doing the same thing:
- Outside of stolen credit and social security information, attackers are frequently after the usernames and passwords to online accounts, from banking websites to social media. Protect these accounts by using a different, complex password for each online account that you use. Implementing a password manager with two-factor authentication as well can help securely manage these passwords.
- Be on the lookout for any emails, phone calls, or other communications that seem suspicious and are trying to get you to provide info that you normally wouldn’t want to provide (i.e. Social Security Numbers, financial information, account passwords, etc.).