If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably concerned about the recent cyber attack on Equifax, one of the big three credit bureaus. If you’re not, you should be. According to the company’s internal review, vital data was stolen from roughly half the country. This information includes Social Security numbers, which of course is a very big deal.
Although the hack was perhaps the biggest cyber crime ever, there are still steps you can take now to protect yourself before it’s too late. If Equifax has your information on file, and it probably does if you’re reading this, the following safeguards can help protect your financial future:
File your taxes as soon as possible. The Federal Trade Commission is encouraging Americans to file their taxes early this year. If your Social Security number was one of the millions stolen, a cyber thief could use it to file a bogus tax return and receive a refund check from the IRS. Yes, this has been a problem in the past, and now it will probably happen to more people. Filing before a fraudulent return is filed will allow you to receive any refund you are due without bureaucratic delays.
Discover Card has launched a security alert service. In response to the Equifax data breach, Discover Card quickly started a very useful program for its cardholders. The bank scans thousands of risky websites known for fraudulent activity, and it will alert you if it finds your Social Security number on one of them. Signing up for the service is quick and easy.
Equifax has set up EquifaxSecurity2017.com. This new website has a lot of information on the data breach. There are extensive FAQ’s that answer questions that many consumers will have. There is a link to enroll in the company’s credit monitoring service, which is now free. There is also information on what Equifax is doing in response to the cyber attack.
Think about putting a credit freeze on your reports. Doing so will lock your credit reports, which prevents anyone from accessing them. Freezing your reports does not affect your credit score. You can remove the lock temporarily to apply for credit, and then reinstate it when you’re finished. Freezes in some states are indefinite, while other states will remove them after seven years. If you decide not to put a freeze on your reports, be sure to check them regularly.
A fraud alert is an alternative to a freeze. With a fraud alert, creditors can still access your report, but they have to take specific steps to verify your identity. An initial fraud alert lasts for 3 months, while the extended variety lasts for 7 years. There is also one for active duty military personnel.
Legal actions against Equifax are available. A class action lawsuit has already been filed against the credit reporting agency, along with 30 other claims. One suit alleges securities fraud because the company’s stock price plummeted in response to the cyber breach. There is also a chatbot service available that will help Equifax customers submit a suit in small claims court.
Check out IdentityTheft.gov. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) started this website to provide a host of resources for victims of identity theft. It provides many helpful tools, including sample letters to use if your credentials have been stolen. The site also lists legal rights consumers have in identify theft cases and information on how to communicate with debt collectors and other parties. There is a step-by-step guide on what to do in specific situations, such as tax return fraud or when unauthorized accounts are opened in your name.
These are just a handful of steps you can take now to better protect your financial life. The Equifax data hack isn’t the first case of cyber crime and it won’t be the last. It has caught the attention of at least one Senator on Capitol Hill, Mark Warner of Virginia, who expressed concern in a letter to the FTC that Equifax has failed in its fiduciary obligations to the American people: “[P]ress reports and cybersecurity experts have identified a number of security lapses, including in the days following Equifax’s disclosure of the breach, that potentially indicate a pattern of security failings.” With increased interest on Capitol Hill, there could be important legal changes in store for the credit bureaus.