So you may (or may not) be affected by the Equifax breach that jeopardized 143 U.S. consumers’ personal information as well as the identities of up to 44 million UK consumers.
Now what? Here are a few recommendations on how you can protect yourself against identity thieves.
Use a credit monitoring service
Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for everyone affected by the breach. (It has also clarified that all victims of the incident DON’T waive their rights to sue the company by signing up for the service.) If you’re hesitant to take Equifax up on its offer (for perhaps understandable reasons), consider signing up with a credit monitoring service like LifeLock on your own time.
Place a security freeze on your credit file
Creditor monitoring services help consumers recover from identity theft, but they don’t prevent it. For the latter, those affected by the Equifax breach should consider placing a security freeze on their credit files. This action effectively blocks potential creditors from viewing your file unless you lift the freeze, thereby making it more difficult for bad actors to apply for credit in your name.
Security freeze laws vary by state, but they usually cost between $0 and $15 to instate. To adequately protect yourself, you must place a security freeze on your credit file with each of the three main credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) as well as Innovis, a credit reporting agency. All four entities have information on their websites about how you can place a security freeze on your credit file via phone, online form, or mail.
Periodically order a copy of your credit report
A security freeze doesn’t prevent everyone from viewing your credit file. For that reason, it’s a good idea to periodically order a copy of your credit report so that you can review it for unauthorized charges. You should also consider checking with your bank and credit card issuer about the types of transaction notifications you can place on your account. These alerts will help you stay on top of your debit and credit card activity.
Create a security alert or security freeze for your consumer file
ChexSystems is a company that provides a bank with a consumer report whenever someone attempts to create a new savings or checking account in your name. You can work with ChexSystems to prevent identity theft by placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your consumer file.
Opt out of new credit report and insurance offers
Some attackers try to intercept new credit or insurance offers in the mail so that they can open new lines of credit in your name. Fortunately, you can opt out of these free offers by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com.
(Thanks to Brian Krebs for all these helpful bits of advice.)
For more discussion on the Equifax data breach, be sure to listen to this episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast: