You’ve probably seen headlines like this recently: Equifax Says Cyber-attack May Have Hit 143 Million Customers
Each year, it seems like more and more companies are falling victim to hackers. Even larger organizations like Verizon, Walmart and Target aren’t immune.
But the recent cyberattack on Equifax is especially noteworthy. As one of the largest credit-reporting companies in the United States, Equifax stores a lot of private information including names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and even credit card numbers.
So what can hackers do with someone’s name, birth date, address, and Social Security number? The answer is simple: take the victim’s identity and use it for themselves. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
Step 1: Equifax has created a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, where you can check to see if your personal information has been compromised. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
Step 2: Check your credit report. You can get a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. You’ll want to check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
Step 3: Consider contacting the three credit reporting agencies and placing a “credit freeze.” This makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
Step 4: Place a fraud alert on your credit. If you, or someone who isn’t you, tries to open an account in your name, you will be notified when this process is initiated.
Step 5: File your taxes as early as possible – before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
Step 6: Watch for signs of identity theft. Warning signs include withdrawals from your bank account you can’t explain, failure to receive expected bills and merchants refusing your checks.
Changing your online passwords and signing up for a third-party credit monitoring service are also prudent steps you can take.
If your information was compromised, you can also enroll in a free credit-monitoring service provided by Equifax, which many experts recommend using.
For more information on protecting yourself from identity theft, I recommend visiting www.identitytheft.gov.