More than 140 million Americans affected
The recent data breach in which more than 140 million Equifax accounts were hacked is considered one of the largest ever, and serves as a reminder that we now live in a time that requires all of us to take proactive steps to protect our financial and personal data.
Unlike previous data breaches, where consumers were victimized if they were a customer of a specific financial institution or retail business, the Equifax breach potentially impacts everyone who has a credit card or a mortgage.
Numerous articles have been published in recent days outlining steps every consumer can take to protect their financial data and personal identity.
You should consider taking these steps, even if you think you were not directly affected by the Equifax breach. Too often, breaches such as this one grow beyond their original scope and reveal that far more people were affected than originally thought.
Below is an aggregated list of actions recommended by multiple sources, from the FTC to various publications focused on information security:
- Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for one year. Consider signing up for it. Just be aware that after the free year, there may be a hard sell to sign up for the service in full and continue. There is also a dispute over whether Equifax has properly corrected the language that specifies that you sacrifice your right to legal action against them if you opt to use the free year of monitoring.
- Consider signing up with an ID theft deterrent and monitoring company, such as LifeLock.
- Sign up for additional credit monitoring from an alternate service. Many financial institutions and credit card issuers offer such services, usually through a third-party partner. These are not always free, but their cost is usually less than if you were to choose a completely separate third-party.You should receive regular reports from these companies. Read them. Review them for any activity that you are unsure about and then call to question it.
- Establish a credit freeze with all three of the credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A credit freeze locks you from having your credit checked for the opening of new accounts, limiting inquiries about your credit to only the companies that you currently have accounts with. There is a small fee associated with these requests.
- Monitor all financial accounts and credit cards for suspicious activity.
- Sign up for credit alerts for your accounts and credit cards. Many offer basic alerts for transactions over certain amounts, where a card was not present, or even for every transaction that occurs.
- Change your passwords, especially the password you use for the affected email account(s). Set a multi-factor authentication option for any and all of your accounts, when available.Adopt long passphrases. Have a different one for every account. (Password managers are an excellent aid for this.)
- Be wary of emails, even more so than you usually are. Scammers will use this opportunity to their advantage, working on your fears, offering assistance, or trying to appear as if they are from one of your legitimate accounts. Remember, Equifax has said that it is contacting the affected individuals by mail.
Many information security experts believe that this situation is far from over and that more details and information will come out as time goes on. Stay informed, and we will update you as new information comes to us.