In early September, credit reporting agency Equifax announced hackers had breached its data, exposing the sensitive information of 143 million people.
Hackers were able to steal names, birthdates, driver’s license and Social Security numbers and addresses.
You might be wondering how the Equifax breach could affect you and what you can do to protect yourself. Here are some things to keep in mind.
6 ways to protect yourself
When the hack was first announced, Equifax released this tool that supposedly was able to tell you if your data was stolen. However, Ron Lieber at The New York Times reports that Equifax doesn’t seem to have a solid handle on whose data was affected — he typed in random names and strings of numbers and received the same responses. If you do use the tool, make sure you use a private computer and don’t use a mobile device to access the site.
Because older adults are more vulnerable to identity theft, you can do additional things to protect your information — whether or not it was accessed in the Equifax incident.
Consider freezing your credit. A credit freeze locks your credit files so only the companies you already do business with can access your information. This can be helpful because if someone tries to use your information to open a credit card, the lender won’t be able to access your credit report, which will result in no new credit card for the thief.
Don’t give your Social Security number to medical providers. If you ever filled out paperwork at your doctor’s office — or even a job application — there’s usually a section that asks for your Social Security number. Retirement columnist Robert Powell notes many older adults give this information away, but that the businesses asking for it don’t really need it. Instead of giving your Social Security number, ask if there’s a different number or identifier you can provide.
Set up fraud alerts. Though it sounds contradictory, setting up fraud alerts with a major credit reporting agency will help alert you if someone tries to use your information.
Check your credit reports: You can get annual credit reports for free from the three major credit monitoring bureaus. To do so, visit annualcreditreport.com. If you notice accounts or activity you don’t recognize, head over to the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft site for information on what to do.
Monitor your credit card and bank accounts: Regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity.
Be aware of your bills: Have you received a bill for a service you didn’t purchase or from an account you don’t recognize? Don’t ignore it. Contact the bill issuer to find out more about the charge.