How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Equifax, one of three major credit reporting agencies, announced a massive security breach on September 7, 2017, more than a month after company executives learned about it on July 29. Criminals stole the social security numbers, birth dates, driver’s license information, and credit card numbers of more than 140 million Americans.

The Equifax theft provides a sobering reminder of the importance of regulations that protect consumers from fraud and hold companies accountable for protecting them. Meanwhile, the finance industry has been pushing the government to further relax regulations to cap damages paid to consumers.

Equifax executives reportedly sold millions of dollars in stock after they learned of the breach but before they made it public. The stock dropped 13% after the announcement. Their actions should provide insight into their lack of ethics and the need for additional consumer protections and corporate accountability.

You can check to see if your data has been breached using this link from the Equifax website. Equifax offers free services through their TrustedID Premier after the check but you may be sacrificing your right to sue them if you sign up. I opted to potentially forego my ability to hold them accountable for the breach in a desperate attempt to further protect my personal information from identity theft.

Consumers have been inundated with steps to take in the wake of the breach to safeguard their personal information. You put yourself at serious financial risk by not taking action. I researched options and decided to freeze my credit since I’m not taking out any loans or opening new credit cards in the foreseeable future. You may find this option the safest and best route.

There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You will need to freeze your credit with all three agencies.

Equifax
Click here to access their credit freeze page.
Cost: Free
Phone: (800) 685-1111
It took me two minutes to complete the process.
They will give you a PIN that you will need to provide to unlock the freeze if you want to take out a loan, apply for a credit card, etc. in the future.

Experian
Click here to access their credit freeze page.
Cost: $10 (may vary by state)
Phone: (888) 397-3742
It took me two minutes to complete the process.
They will give you a PIN that you will need to provide to unlock the freeze.

Transunion
Click here to access their credit freeze page.
Cost: $10
Phone: (888) 909-8872
It took me five minutes to complete the process.
They will give you a PIN that you will need to provide to unlock the freeze.

If you plan on taking out car, business, or home loans or opening new credit cards, the credit freeze may not be your best option because you have to pay to unlock the freeze. You may want to find out the fees for unlocking your credit reports as it may still be worth the protection to lock and unlock them as needed.

I also recommend setting up a two-step verification process for your credit card and bank accounts. In addition to logging in, you will receive a text verification code on your cell phone that you need to enter to gain access to the account. It requires criminals to have your username, password, security answers, and cell phone to breach your accounts. It doesn’t prevent them from opening fake accounts in your name.

In addition or in lieu of freezing your credit reports, you can regularly monitor your credit card accounts and bank statements for suspicious activity, add fraud alerts to your credit cards, and file your taxes early. For more information on how you can protect yourself, click here.

Beware of scams. Criminals are calling people posing as Equifax representatives and asking to verify their personal information. Equifax will not call or email you for your personal information. Stay alert!

Finally, when you’ve taken the necessary steps to protect yourself, I strongly urge you to contact your elected officials in Congress to ask them to regulate the finance industry and hold Equifax accountable for their failure to protect our personal information.

2 thoughts on “How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

  1. Thanks so much for this information, Andrew. It is very helpful. I contacted Equifax as soon as I heard of the breach, but got the run around. They gave me a number to call since it was confirmed I was breached, but when I called it, the guy on the phone said he was “just a call center and knew nothing about it”. I called back to Equifax to report this and was told to call them again. I did. Same story. It’s hard to believe the extent of their ineptitude in handling all this. Your advice is very much appreciated!

  2. Thank you so much for your research. I am afraid that our current government is useless when it comes to consumer protection. It seems Equifax execs had no fear or being held responsible and for selling their stock after the breach. They know they will not be held accountable OR face any charges. That is the sad state of affairs that we live in now.

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