If your bank got robbed, would you make a large deposit the next day? If a babysitter lost your child, would you ask that person to lead the search party? Then why would you turn to Equifax for help dealing with the Equifax data breach?
Equifax already allowed hackers to steal 145.5 million people’s personal information. So giving the company more info – to sign up for complimentary credit monitoring or to see if you were affected by the breach – is something of a “fool me twice” situation.
Plus, let’s get something straight right from the start: Your personal information is out there. There’s no use in hoping otherwise or confirming your status with Equifax. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults were affected by the data breach at Equifax. And that’s just one breach. You also have to consider the many others that have happened in recent years, including:
- Anthem: 80 million people’s records were stolen in 2015.
- Target: 41 million customers had their payment info stolen in 2012.
- Yahoo: 3 billion accounts were compromised in 2013-2014.
Your goal should be to make yourself as tough of a target for identity thieves as possible. Imagine, for example, that we everyday consumers are a herd of wildebeest, and the identity thieves are a pack of lions. Sure, they can see all of us, but they won’t be able to catch everyone. So they’ll target the weak.
Here’s what you can do to avoid being attacked.
- Sign up for 24/7 credit monitoring. You’ll get a notification whenever there’s an important change to your credit report, allowing you to immediately look into the change and take action if needed. And there are plenty of free 24/7 credit-monitoring services to choose from these days.
- Enable two-step verification everywhere.This means you’ll have to input a code texted to your cell phone whenever you sign into an account on a new device. This adds an extra layer of security to any account, but it’s especially important with online bank accounts, credit card accounts and your primary email. You’ll likely use your main email to reset other account passwords, after all.
- Change your passwords.You hear this advice all the time, and for good reason. It’s a simple, effective way to keep your information safe. And a breach of this magnitude is a good excuse to catch up in this regard. Ideally, you should create three new passwords: one for email, one for financial accounts and a third for all other accounts. They should be at least eight characters long, including at least one uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number and special character.
By the way, you should avoid using a password manager. That would create a single point of failure, exposing all of your passwords if it were compromised.
- Freeze your reports for added security. Fraud alerts don’t really do anything. They’re just a warning and are easily overlooked by lenders. Freezing your credit reports, on the other hand, prevents anyone without a special PIN from accessing your files. There’s generally a small fee for locking each of your credit reports, which you must do individually. But it’s waived for victims of fraud.
- Suppress fraudulent info. A fraudulent account on your credit report could find its way back onto your file if you remove it by following the standard credit report dispute process. In contrast, suppressing or blocking the info prevents it from being re-reported in the future and making an unwelcome comeback. (This is essentially a dedicated dispute process for credit report inaccuracies stemming from identity theft. It’s faster than a standard dispute, and it requires you to take special steps such as completing a Federal Trade Commission affidavit.)
- Never respond to unsolicited requests for info. Spam calls and emails typically increase in the aftermath of a big breach, indicating that at least some of your info has been released. When the time comes, don’t let the moment fluster you. Just hang up or delete the email.
- File your taxes early. If you’re anticipating a refund this year, you can cut identity thieves off at the pass by filing early and claiming the money you’re due before they have a chance to.
Finally, it’s important not to get overly focused on your Equifax credit report. Just because an identity thief gets his or her information from Equifax does not mean the fraud perpetrated with that info will automatically show up on your Equifax report. Lenders typically select one of the three major bureaus to pull a report from. So make sure to keep a close eye on your TransUnion and Experian reports, too.