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Protect Your Credit After a Data Breach

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Recent news of the Equifax hack and subsequent data breach potentially affecting millions of people has caused many to question if they are a victim, and how they should respond if their information has been compromised.

A lot of information, including tips and advice on how to proceed, is being shared on news sites and social media. I have collected what I believe are the most useful tips and provided links to trusted news sources with more information about this specific data breach.

The Federal Trade Commission provides an overall description of the incident and provides information on how to proceed.

The New York Times offers a detailed breakdown with important questions and answers.

Forbes has a story detailing what not to do.

Have I been affected by the hack?

Equifax created a website to check whether your information was exposed. This is the only way to determine if your information may have been compromised as the company will not alert you otherwise.

Next Steps

Experts advise that even if your information wasn’t exposed during this breach it is still a good idea to place a “freeze” on your credit.  According to the FTC, a credit freeze lets you restrict access to your credit report making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.  If creditors cannot access your file, they may not extend credit. You can unfreeze (“thaw”) and re-freeze when you apply for credit.

To request a credit freeze please follow the web links below or call each company directly at the numbers provided.  Please be advised, charges may apply to freeze or thaw credit.

Equifax – 1-800-685-1111

Experian – 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872

*When calling to set up a freeze please make sure to have a pen and paper ready as you will be issued a PIN and the number may come quickly and without sufficient warning.  It may not be repeated.

*Credit agencies keep separate files on each adult so married couples need to file individually.

In addition to a credit freeze, the FTC offers these helpful steps to help protect yourself after a data breach:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
  • Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft.
  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.