I wish I could say that the Equifax hack debacle was resolved and everyone’s personal data was protected. That’s not the case. It may be months or even years before we know what happened and who stole what.
There’s little doubt that some 143 million Americans are at risk. The company performed poorly, had awful cybersecurity measures and was slow to respond. They’re facing government probes and possible litigation.
Cyberthieves can steal your driver’s license, bank account, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers from Equifax files. While you may not have known Equifax had all this personal information, every time you applied for credit — or other credit inquiries were made — Equifax and the other two main credit reporting agencies doled it out.
Do the freeze. You need to be careful and incredibly vigilant. I signed up for fraud alerts through my credit card companies and a freeze through Equifax.
A freeze isn’t a perfect lock on your credit files, but it’s a start. At least you can partially block access to your personal information, although for most of those exposed through the Equifax hack, the robbers left the scene of the crime months ago.
Here’s what you need to know now:
— Don’t fall for scams. There’s another gang of thieves operating now who specialize in calling or emailing people to steal even more information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating the hack, scammers are calling people to request personal information, claiming they are calling from Equifax.
“This is Equifax calling to verify your account information,” the FTC states the scammers say when they call. “Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.”
— Watch out for robocalls. Fraud outfits will also do automatic dialing and calling, offering “protection.” Ignore those calls and well and don’t trust caller IDs, which are often masked.
— The best credit protection is self-policing. You’ll be offered any number of “credit monitoring” services. While most of these are legitimate, you can do all of this yourself.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends you keep a close eye on your credit and bank statements. If you see any suspicious activity, report it immediately.
“Look closely for charges you did not make,” the CFPB advises. “Even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves sometimes will take a small amount from your checking account and then return to take much more if the small debit goes unnoticed.”
— Change your passwords. This is really simple, but helps. You can do this on a regular basis. Also, if you’re a service member, you may be eligible for additional protections.
It also wouldn’t hurt to review your cybersecurity software. Is it making regular sweeps for malware and viruses? Most programs do, but you need to make sure your virus protection is up to date.