This past Thursday, we got chilling news: Hackers have stolen personal identifying and sensitive information for 143 million American consumers—including Social Security and driver’s license numbers—from Equifax, one of the big three consumer reporting agencies.
How this could happen is beyond my comprehension. As I read about this cyber break-in, I could feel the anger begin to well up inside of me to the point I wanted to just sit in the corner and chew my hair. But now is not the time for anger.
We must assume that all of us and our family members are part of the 143 million individuals who are now ripe for having their stolen identities and personal information used by criminals to open accounts, file tax returns, buy property and more. It’s up to us to take steps to prevent this. No one else is going to do this for us.
Here’s what I am doing today in response to this horrible event: Nothing.
That’s because I, my family and my staff have LifeLock identify theft protection. Call me paranoid—or maybe I’ve just read too many horror stories—but I’ve never fully trusted the credit bureaus. Today, I’m even more untrusting. Even my young grandsons have LifeLock because it is horrific what ID thieves can do with the Social Security number of even a minor child.
The best approach here is to assume your data has been breached in this massive Equifax cyber break-in. If you do not have LifeLock identity theft protection (it’s not too late, but let’s just say you don’t have it), here are the steps you need to take as soon as possible:
1. Place free fraud alerts on all three of your credit accounts. Once this is in place, it will require any lender that pulls your credit reports to call you and verify verbally that you actually submitted a valid application for credit. You can create fraud alerts at any one of the three credit bureau websites. Theoretically, they share information with one another: Experian fraud alert, Equifax fraud alert, TransUnion fraud alert. Or if you do not feel comfortable or trust a simple fraud alert, you should:
2. Freeze your accounts. Depending on your state of residence, this may cost you a few bucks. Check details for your state HERE. If you freeze your accounts, they are taken out of circulation. That means no new lender (a lender that you don’t have a relationship with) can access your reports, period. You can learn more about how to place freezes on all of your credit reports at these credit bureau websites: Experian credit freeze, Equifax credit freeze, TransUnion credit freeze. And you must freeze each account. Do not assume they’ll do that sharing thing when it comes to freezing.
3. Change your passwords. Do this especially for sites that contain sensitive information like financial, health or credit card data. I know this can be a daunting task, but consider it absolutely necessary. Create the strongest passwords for the sites that contain the most sensitive information and do not reuse those passwords anywhere else. Do it now. And if you were not doing so already, you will have to treat everything you receive online with an abundance of suspicion, in case hackers are trying to trick you out of even more information.
By the way, and get ready for this, Equifax is offering one-year free fraud alert service, TrustedID, to anyone and everyone who wants it. There is nothing wrong with this service, at all. However, should you accept and then depend on TrustedID, remember these three things:
- You will only get it for one year. Fraudsters are not stupid. They know to disappear for a few years to let the heat die down and then resurface to make use of your personal information.
- It only applies to Equifax. That means you will be locking one door but leaving two others open.
- You will waive some of your rights by enrolling in TrustedID. Read about that HERE.
If you do everything suggested above to protect your personal information, you will have gone a long way to protecting yourself. Just make sure you encourage everyone in your family to do the same.
In the meantime, if you are interested in quality identity theft protection, check out LifeLock. Use this link and you can get a 30-day free trial (which I highly recommend, by the way) plus a nice discount, too.
If you enroll in Lifelock today you will have immediate protection—no waiting period or conditions. We have had this for many years now, and cannot enumerate all of the potential harm that has been averted for me, my family and staff members over the years. All of us get occasional alerts and “just checking” calls from time to time that let me know LifeLock is really on its toes.