As you probably heard, Equifax had a data breach and 143 million American’s identities are potentially at risk. It’s a good idea to find out if you have been affected, and to protect your personal information as much as possible for the future. Though there is nothing that can guarantee your information is 100 percent safe, there are some steps you can take to make yourself more secure:
Freeze your credit*. Call the credit agencies and tell them that you want to freeze your credit. They will charge you $10, but once your credit is frozen, so is your information. No one can get it. If you want to get a new credit card or take out a loan, you will have to unfreeze your credit, which will cost another $10. I keep my credit frozen, turning it on and off when need be. I have to pay the price each time, but I think of it like an insurance premium.
Put a fraud alert on file with the credit agencies*. The alerts force the credit agencies to contact you if there are any new credit requests. They expire after 90 days.
Check your credit cards and bank accounts. If you see anything that looks suspicious, act on it. Check on any charge you don’t recognize, even if it’s for a small amount. Some identity thieves start by charging small amounts as a sort of test: If nothing stops them, they’ll go big the next time. Be especially alert right now—in fact, I suggest checking your accounts every day.
File your income tax early. There’s a concern that the thieves may try to use the information to steal income tax refunds. In general, it can be easier to steal money and information when there is a lot of it online. If you file early, you won’t be part of the crowd.
Unfortunately, the Equifax breach is so large it’s likely that some of you reading this post are affected. Do what you can to protect yourself and your money.
* Due to the Equifax breach, the companies are overwhelmed with requests right now, so you may have difficulty getting through.