What Happened?

According to Equifax, the company’s database was breached between May and July of 2017 exposing the personal information of an estimated 143 million people.

The compromised information included names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and in some instances drivers’ license, credit card information and dispute documents.

Equifax has set up its own program to help people find out if they were one of the millions affected in the hack but there are no guarantees with this identification tool.  You can visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to check your name.

Because there are no guarantees that your information has not been compromised, everyone should be cautious.  Take extra care and watch for signs of identity theft.

What to Look for

The FTC gives some of the major signs of identity theft, which include:

  • Unexplained withdrawals from your bank accounts
  • You stop getting mail or bills (implying your address has been changed)
  • You have stopped getting your social security benefits
  • Debt collectors call about debts you don’t recognize
  • You find unfamiliar charges on your credit cards
  • You find unfamiliar creditors on your credit report

Steps to Consider

Get a free credit report

The federal law guarantees you one free credit report per year from each of the three major bureaus. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free report(s) and check for any fraudulent activity. We suggest you space out your free reports so that you can check for new activity throughout the year.

If you would like to sign up for My Social Security online https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount, do so before you freeze your credit report.  By signing up online it may deter a criminal from signing up and claiming benefits in your name (when you sign in online they will use a cell phone or email address to send a verification code each time you sign in).  Putting a freeze on your credit will stop anyone (including you) from enrolling for online services with the Social Security Administration since My Social Security uses Equifax to verify your information during the initial enrollment.

Freeze your credit.

Credit freezes make it harder for criminals to open credit cards in your name. Once a freeze is in place no one can open new accounts in your name including you.  To place a freeze you’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus:

Equifax at 800-349-9960 or freeze online
Experian at 888‑397‑3742 or freeze online
TransUnion at 888-909-8872 or freeze online

There are a few things you should know about credit freezes before you begin.

  • When you put a freeze on your account each credit reporting agency will give you a unique PIN number.  You will need these PIN numbers to unfreeze your credit account before you can apply for any credit, including car, home loans, employer or landlord credit checks. So you will have to keep these PIN numbers in a safe place perhaps for years.  If you misplace the PIN number it will not be easy to unfreeze your account and you will not be happy so plan ahead.
  • There may be a cost to freeze and unfreeze your credit accounts (laws vary by state).  At this time it is free in North Carolina and $10 in Alabama for each reporting agency each time you freeze or unfreeze an account.  At this time Equifax is offering this as a free service but only until January 31, 2018.  It is also free to victims of identity theft but not potential victims so someone would have had to misuse your information to get this service for free.

Stay vigilant

Look at all your bank and credit card statements double check all charges and withdrawals to make sure they are correct.  Add additional security measures to any account that offers it.

Set a fraud alert.

This is a free service; you can set up a 90-day fraud alert which will notify creditors to take extra steps before establishing new accounts which usually means trying to contact you.

Do not delay when filing taxes for the coming year.

Criminals with your personal information can file fraudulent returns with your social security number and collect a refund.  If you file early it makes it less likely that someone is able to use your social security number before you do.

What do I do if my identity has been misused?

Addressing identity theft is a long and frustrating process. To help those affected by identity theft, the FTC provides step by step instructions at www.identitytheft.gov.