Equifax’s massive data breach should put you on high alert

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According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach by Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July, although it wasn’t announced until September 7, 2017. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.

Equifax has been under fire for the way information and instructions regarding what to do was managed. At the time of this writing, it is still not crystal clear what actions affected consumers should take. (Google "Equifax breach" and you will find countless articles reporting the missteps of the company.)

Be vigilant and on high alert to protect yourself. In addition, there are fake phishing sites and schemes looking to take advantage of this situation. E-mails, texts, or phone calls you get regarding your Equifax account should be considered suspect unless you initiated the communication.

The FTC suggests that you:

  • Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com, the Equifax Web site.
  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—for free —by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit identitytheft.gov to find out what to do in that case
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you
  • File your taxes early—as soon as you have the tax information you need—before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to any letters from the IRS.

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