More than 143 million consumer accounts were impacted by the recent Equifax breach. During a period of May to July, hackers were able to access sensitive information including consumers social security numbers, date of birth, driver license number and other sensitive information.
While there have been many data breaches before, this one really hurts. This is the first time one of the three largest credit reporting agencies’ data has been compromised. Equifax provides information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), lending institutions and other third-party agencies.
What should a person do first?
Equifax has set up a site to let consumers know whether their account has been compromised. Consumers can visit Equifaxsecurity2017.com and enter their personal information. Whether you have or have not been impacted, Equifax is offering a free year of credit monitoring if consumers sign up by November 21.
Place a freeze on your credit
Consider placing a freeze on your credit file. A freeze restricts access to your credit file so that new credit lines are not able to be added without your authorization. While there is usually a cost to “freeze” your credit report, Equifax is waiving this cost for consumers and there is a push in Congress to allow consumers to obtain a freeze without a fee. Keep in mind, if you freeze your credit, it only freezes your credit file with the credit reporting agency. You would have to contact each of three credit reporting agencies to “freeze” your credit from all three.
Monitor your accounts
This is a great time to consider placing alerts on your financial accounts. Many financial institutions allow for alerts to be set up on your accounts. This way if your account is compromised you will know immediately. More importantly, you will be able to take action before substantial damage is done.
Continue to check your credit
Periodically review your credit account to see whether there have been any changes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the credit reporting agencies to provide consumers a free copy of your report every twelve (12) months. Individuals can obtain a free copy at annualcreditrport.com.
Lastly, if your identity has been stolen, remember to report incidents to the Federal Trade Commission. Make certain to visit identitytheft.gov for more information.
Kemberley Washington, CPA is a financial and tax advisor. She owns her own firm in New Orleans, Washington CPA Services, LLC. She is the author of The Ten Commandments to a Financial Healing and 21 Days of Powerful Breakthroughs. Her books are featured on the YouVersion Bible App and has received more than 100,000 downloads. She appears frequently on Fox 8 Morning News and NBC’s WDSU.