In today’s world of prolific online hackers, we all need to exercise due diligence to protect our personal information. The last few years have seen several massive hacks, including the Equifax data breach announced in September 2017. What can you do to protect yourself from hackers? And if your information was taken from Equifax several years ago, is there anything you can do now?
How to protect yourself
It’s better to protect your data before it’s stolen than to try to recover after a major hacking. Here are some tips for guarding your personal information.
- Check your credit reports regularly. You can get a free report at CreditKarma.com.
- Take a look at identity theft protection services, such as LifeLock, which monitors your credit and bank accounts as well as unauthorized use of your social security number.
- File your income taxes early in the filing season. Thieves filing bogus tax returns are a growing problem, and a credit agency freeze will not prevent that.
Be cautious about giving out your social security number. Medical service providers and financial institutions such as banks and brokerages need it, but most other businesses do not.
- Do not send items through the mail that include your social security number or complete numbers for your credit and bank accounts. Many identities are stolen through theft of regular mail. Strongly consider switching to paying bills online.
Always exercise skepticism when you receive unsolicited email, texts, or phone calls claiming to be from a bank or a creditor, especially those containing a link purporting to allow you to log in to or confirm your account. Instead, call a number you already have or log on to your account through the web address you already use and check to see if the contact is legitimate.
- If your data has possibly been stolen, some consumer experts recommend you freeze your credit. A freeze prevents anyone but you from opening a credit account in your name. To place a freeze on your credit, go to the website of each of the three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion — and follow the steps. Each agency will charge you a small fee to do so. Each will assign to you a Personal Identification Number, or PIN, which you will need any time you log into your account. If you need to apply for credit while a freeze is in place, ask the creditor which agency they check, then log into your account with that agency and ask to have it temporarily unfrozen. The agency will charge a small fee for this.
Relief from the Equifax data breach
The Equifax data breach took place in mid-2017 and affected more than half of consumers with a credit file. More than 200,000 credit card numbers were stolen.
A court has approved the settlement of a class-action suit brought on behalf of consumers who were affected by the Equifax data breach, and the initial deadline for filing a claim for damages in the case has passed. However, you can still continue to file claims during the Extended Claim Period until January 22, 2024, for expenses you incur as a result of fraud or identity theft related to the breach. Examples of allowable expenses include money you lose because of unauthorized charges to your credit accounts, fees you pay professionals such as attorneys to help you recover, and expenses such as postage and mileage. The Federal Trade Commission has a page describing the legal settlement, and you can also sign up for email updates.
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