In early September, Equifax, one of the three credit bureaus, admitted it got hacked, compromising the information of 143 million Americans, including me. If you were affected—and there’s a good chance you were, since it affects more than 44 percent of the population—you now have to worry about your name, address, Social Security number, birth date and, possibly, driver’s license number being sold. (Thanks, Equifax.)
That’s all the information anyone needs for a complete identity takeover. So what can you do to protect yourself?
I immediately checked the Equifax site to see if my info may have been compromised. The first time I tried, all I got was a “thank you” pop up, encouraging me to enroll in TrustedID Premier, Equifax’s identity theft protection service. (See #4.) When I checked again two days later, I got confirmation that I’d likely been affected by the breach.
I pulled copies of my credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com from all three bureaus and scanned them for unusual activity. (You can get one copy from each for free every 12 months.)
I also checked my score on Credit Karma, Credit Wise, Discover Credit Scorecard and through my credit cards that offer access to my credit score. Monitoring your score’s a simple way to flag ID theft, as a sudden drop could indicate someone is applying for credit in your name or a debt you didn’t create is in collections.
I’m not planning to apply for credit in the upcoming months, so I took the extra measure of initiating a credit freeze. This makes it difficult for identity thieves to open new lines of credit with my information—and doesn’t compromise my credit score or current lines of credit. I can “thaw” my report(s) for lenders by contacting the credit bureau and providing the PIN I was given when it was frozen.
Each credit bureau (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) offers the option. Just note that some states charge a fee for the service—typically between $5 to $10 per bureau—and you may need to pay another fee to unfreeze it.
Don’t want to go that route? You can still sign up for fraud alerts, which should notify lenders your information may have been compromised.
Equifax is providing free ID theft monitoring for the first year to those affected. (It’s not clear how much you’ll pay after that—it’s nowhere on the terms of service—though the agency claims it will not automatically continue your enrollment you after the complimentary year.)
Before enrolling in any monitoring service, read the terms and conditions closely. Last week, eagle-eyed consumers noticed an arbitration clause in the Equifax fine print and balked. The agency has since clarified that consumers will not be blocked from participating in class action lawsuits as a result of this breach.
I’ll be checking my credit score monthly to look out for any significant change and doing my best to stay vigilant. It also doesn’t hurt to change passwords! Identity thieves play the long game, so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if nothing happens in the next couple months.