Tiffany M. Faust | Posted on Oct 01, 2016
Last month, Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, announced a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and, even if you were not a victim of the Equifax breach, now is a great time to better secure your credit.
Steps to Take Now
See if you’re an Equifax breach victim. Equifax has established a dedicated website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, to help you determine if your information has been breached. As an option, you may sign up for the credit file monitoring and identity theft protection Equifax is offering. If your information has been compromised, notify your financial institutions immediately.
Review your credit report. Even if you are not a victim, review your credit report. You are eligible for one free credit report each year from the credit reporting agencies including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Requesting your report from one of these agencies every four months allows you to continually monitor for fraudulent activity throughout the year. You can request your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
Apply a credit freeze or fraud alert. A credit freeze stops all access to your credit report until you lift or remove the freeze. Each credit reporting agency may charge a nominal state-required fee for placing, lifting or removing the freeze. To apply a freeze, you must contact each of the agencies individually:
- Equifax – 1-800-349-9960 or online at https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
- Experian – 1-888-397-3742 or online at https://www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze
- TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872 or online at https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
- Innovis – 1-800-540-2505 or online at https://www.innovis.com/securityFreeze/index
There are two kinds of fraud alerts. An initial fraud alert is free; however, it must be renewed every 90 days. If, upon reviewing your credit report, you determine you are already a victim of identity theft, you may request an extended fraud alert, which is good for seven years. An initial or extended fraud alert tells creditors to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the individual applying for credit. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the first three national credit reporting agencies as indicated below. The one you contact must notify the other two; however, you must contact the fourth agency, Innovis, directly.
- Equifax – 1-888-766-0008 or online at https://www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp
- Experian.com – 1-888-397-3742 or online at https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html
- TransUnion – 1-800-680-7289 or online at https://fraud.transunion.com/fa/fraudAlert/landingPage.jsp
- Innovis – 1-800-540-2505 or https://www.innovis.com/fraudActiveDutyAlerts/index
What to Watch for Next
Watch for notifications from Equifax. Equifax has stated direct mail notices will be sent to impacted consumers whose credit card numbers or dispute documents with personal identifying information were compromised. Be wary of emails that appear to come from Equifax. Scammers are likely to take advantage of the situation and craft sophisticated phishing emails.
Monitor your bank accounts for fraudulent transactions. Services like online, mobile and telephone banking are useful for keeping a close eye on your accounts. Review your statements and report discrepancies immediately. Keep your guard up. Be alert to phone calls, emails, text messages, or even letters by mail attempting to scam you in to sharing your personal information. If you have any reason to think the contact may be legitimate, hang up and call the business back using their publicly advertised phone number. File your taxes early. File your taxes early, before an identity thief has the chance. If you receive a letter from the IRS, respond immediately. If you question the authenticity of the letter, you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for assistance determining if the letter is legitimate and requires your attention.