The most surprising piece of information to come from the Equifax Data Breach is learning how many people had no idea who or what Equifax was and that they felt it did not involve them. The second thing that took me by surprise was some of those who understood who Equifax was or after learning who they are have a complacent “oh well” attitude about the data breach.
So just how can the data breach affect you? Before we answer, let’s first understand what was taken that belongs to you?
- Your full name
- Your Social Security Number
- Your driver’s license number
- In some cases your credit card number
So back to the question about the effect on you; first the obvious, if your information is used a person can open up new credit accounts in your name, buy a car, house, computer, whatever. In turn the bill is sent to you and the purchase goes on your report. At this point you have to prove it was not you, which can cost a lot of money and will cost a lot of time. But more can happen with the above information that Equifax allowed to be stolen. If you are getting a Social Security check for retirement or disability a person can have the check redirected to another bank, they can cause problems with your mortgage, get into your online accounts like PayPal, eBay, banking, Amazon and others. The information stolen is considered the gold mine, mother lode of information and in no way should be taken lightly. This is a life changing breach.
When my son was 14 he had his Social Security Number and address stolen, within days over $30,000 in credit was acquired. I had to clean it up and it took over 6 months and in the process I discovered who did it and learned it was done by someone I knew “as a joke, to see if they could”. But that experience taught me that prevention is easier than clean up.
So what can you do?
- Go to annualcreditreport.com and get your free credit report. This is a federal mandated site where each American is allowed to get 1 free copy of their report from each of the top 3 credit agencies each year. You will not be charged or asked to enter any payment information. Once you have your report, take the time to read and study it carefully. Look for “recent” and new activity. Since the breach is about 7 weeks old as of the time of this posting, anything older that looks odd is for other reasons. But anything since the breach that you did not do needs to be addressed quickly
- Once you have your report in hand go to transunion.com and place a freeze on your credit. You only need to do this with one (1) of the agencies they will then share that freeze information with the other two. Understand fully what a freeze can and cannot do. A freeze will prevent ANYONE (even you) from opening any new credit accounts. No one can open a new credit card account, or buy a car etc. But what it will NOT do is protect your Social Security Check, bank accounts or any online accounts. YOU must take further action on these other accounts.
- Call or go to your bank to add any other protection they have. I have all of my accounts monitored, checking, savings, credit cards, and mortgage and auto loans. I get several text and emails every month, but I also get them if anything looks out of sorts. I called my bank, US Bank, and discovered with everything I have in place they offered two more layers. Now they advised me that it will make it harder on me when I call or log in, I have no choice, I added the additional protection.
- For online accounts add all the layers of protection offered. Look back at what was stolen and what was not stolen. Over the next few weeks we will see a shift to protection, what was not stolen will become what will be at the top of protection. So those 3 secret questions, use them, and make them hard to answer. Also the alternate number, use it. Many sites request a phone number as a layer of protection here is how that works. If you log in from an unknown IP address (an Internet connection you have not used) a text message with a code will be sent to that cell phone number you listed. So if you get a text message with a code and you did not log into that account, then you know someone is trying. So make a list of all you online accounts, go through all of them adding all the layers of protection possible, but keep a list of the information so you don’t forget.
- As to the Federal Social Security program. There is nothing you can do and no additional layer of protection you can add. It is doubtful that the Social Security Administration will get the additional funding to add any protection as well. This one area will become the weakest link and probably the first to fail. It’s the nature of any government agency, don’t prevent failure wait for it. In the same line is the IRS. With the above information your tax return check can be redirected or someone else can file your return. Again doubtful this will be protected at the IRS.
- Some final common sense steps. Clean up what personal information you are sharing on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc) remove or delete ALL personal information. These sites will tell you it’s safe, but these sites are by design to share your personal data. A person on Facebook can have their profile set to private, but Google still indexes it and if you know the correct keywords to place into Google you can pull up anyone’s profile. So remove personal information.
- Delete unused logins from sites you no longer use. Many of us create profiles on shopping sites or other sites and then never go back. Go to these sites and delete those profiles. On the sites you do use, log into your profile and remove as much personal information as you are able and don’t store payment information.
- Lastly contact an attorney. Don’t do so with the motive of getting rich, but with the motive of obtaining legal protection from the data breach so you will not be held in account. I used one called Morgan and Morgan. I’m not going to post their contact information as this is not an advert. But find someone and start the process of protection. By having it in place if your data is used you will be better off to fight for your protection.