Personal Finance

After massive breach, take steps to guard your identity

Credit monitoring company Equifax says a breach exposed social security numbers and other data from about 143 million Americans.
Credit monitoring company Equifax says a breach exposed social security numbers and other data from about 143 million Americans. Associated Press

Credit monitoring company Equifax revealed a massive data breach last week, potentially losing critical personal information of 143 million Americans. That’s nearly one out of every two Americans whose Social Security Number, date of birth, address and potentially driver’s license number have been compromised. This information is sometimes called Personally Identifiable Information, PII.

With this information, bad guys could open fraudulent accounts, file taxes in your name and more. Whether you can confirm you are a part of the Equifax breach or not, this is a sobering reminder to look at securing your identity as best you can.

Better Business Bureau recommends starting with the following steps:

1. Check with the website of the company that was breached for the latest information. Type the company name directly into your browser. Do not click on a link from an email or social media message, in case of phishing.

2. Consider putting a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies (go.bbb.org/creditfreeze). A credit freeze will prevent anyone from accessing your credit report or scores. This means you cannot apply for new credit without lifting the freeze. A fraud alert flags your account but does not automatically halt new credit being opened in your name.

3. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide you with a free annual credit report. Be wary of ads, emails, and social media messages for other services. Everyone should check their credit reports annually, whether or not they have been the victim of a data breach.

4. If your credit or debit card has been breached:

• Monitor your statements carefully, using secure online or mobile banking so you can check daily.

• If you see a fraudulent charge, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately so the charge can be reversed and a new card issued.

• Keep receipts in case you need to prove which charges you authorized and which ones you did not.

• Pay extra close attention to debit card breaches, as this form of payment withdraws funds directly from your bank account.

• Contact your bank for more information, or if you want to pre-emptively request a new debit card or put a security block on your account.

Beware of scammers who may purport to be from the retailer, your bank, or your credit card issuer, telling you that your card was compromised and suggesting actions to “fix” the problem. Phishing emails may attempt to fool you into providing your credit card information, or ask you to click on a link or open an attachment, which can download malware onto your computer.

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