Earlier this year, hackers managed to breach the security of Equifax, one of the three national credit reporting agencies. More than 143 million Americans — almost half the US — were exposed to the attack, and may have had their personal information stolen, including names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, and driver's license numbers.
Equifax is still figuring out precisely whose data was compromised. While you wait to find out, it's worth taking a few proactive steps to make sure hackers do not misuse your information.
Start checking. Visit Equifax's website at equifaxsecurity2017.com and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you whether it's likely or not your data has been exposed, and put you on a list to get more information. You can also sign up for one year of credit monitoring provided by Equifax.
Watch your statements. Start checking your credit card statements, and pay careful attention to cards you don't use often. The first reports from the breach were that hackers may have been making charges on cards that were not used frequently.
Check your credit reports. You can look for suspicious items on your reports, such as new accounts being opened in your name, at all three credit report agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Free annual reports are available at annualcreditreport.com.
Freeze your credit. If you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft, you can place a credit freeze on your profile at each of the three credit reporting agencies. This stops anyone from opening new accounts in your name. Keep in mind that you'll have to unfreeze your accounts if you want to apply for new loans or make your credit accessible for things like job applications.
File your taxes early. One of the most common ways identity thieves use your information is to try to claim a tax refund with your data. This was the most common scam in 2016, according to the Better Business Bureau. If you file your tax return as early as possible, you shut down this opportunity for any potential thieves.