Hackers are going straight to the Credit Bureaus to steal your identity.
Cybercriminals have stolen 143 million credit records in the recent hacking scandal at big-three credit bureau Equifax. At this point, you have to assume that the bad guys have highly personal information that they can use to trick you. This data breach is important because as a credit bureau, they have data on many people. It is estimated half of the US population is affected. Even if you have never worked with Equifax, you could be a victim. Also, the type of data they have is just the type a fraudster wants – personally identifiable information (PII) necessary for identity theft and/or credit fraud.
What should you do?
- Check to see if you may have been impacted at this link, where Equifax will let you know if your information has been exposed
and will give you the option to enroll in free identity monitoring with Equifax (but we cannot recommend. Using another company would be wise.)
- Watch for a snail mail notice from Equifax. The timeline is unclear as to when they will mail these out. Equifax is taking steps to try to identify those impacted. Equifax’s notification is focused on reassuring consumers that no information has been found to be in the hands of hackers, but news reports are raising more concern. Some of these reports suggest that 200,00 or more credit card numbers have been leaked as well as PII of up to 180,000 + individuals. Equifax releases their consumer information here.
- Next freeze your credit files at the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Remember that generally it is not possible to sign up for credit monitoring services after a freeze is in place. Advice for how to file a freeze is available here on a state-by-state basis: http://consumersunion.org/research/security-freeze/
- A credit freeze can temporarily be lifted and then put back in place if you are actively seeking credit.
- There is a cost to place and remove a credit freeze (amount varies by state and age) and each spouse must place their own freeze.
- If you actively use credit this may not be a practical solution
- Check your credit reports via the free annualcreditreport.com
- Review all the information on your report (creditors, addresses – past and present, employers, etc.) for anything that is unfamiliar.
- Stop pre-screened credit offers to limit future exposure by calling 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). You can also opt out online.
- If you are concerned about issues like this, you should also consider signing up for a service like PrivacyGuard or LifeLock to keep watch on your identity and credit and alert you to any items that may be a concern.
- If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, here is a site where you can learn more about how to protect yourself: www.idtheftcenter.org. You can also call the center’s toll-free number (888-400-5530) for advice on how to resolve identify-theft issues. All of the center’s services are free.
What should you watch out for?
- Phishing emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised.
- Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record, or other personal financial information
- Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union
- Fraudulent charges on any credit card because your identity was stolen. It is prudent to watch your credit activity closely these days.