One of the credit-reporting agencies, Equifax, experienced a data breach that included Social Security numbers, dates of birth, driving-license numbers and for some people, possibly their credit card numbers as well. Equifax has established a website that allows people to check if their information was likely compromised. They are also offering complimentary identity-theft protection and credit file monitoring for one year for anyone, regardless of whether your personal information was impacted by this particular incident or not. Equifax has clarified that the terms of signing up for the service will not preclude users from joining any class-action lawsuit against the company related to the breach.
There are actions now to consider to help protect your credit and identity, even if you do not appear affected by the Equifax incident.
1. Change passwords to websites that have access to personal information, such as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers. In addition to financial services, this could include healthcare providers, alumni associations and online retailers.
2. Monitor your bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity and carefully review transactions from the past several months for any items that may not be familiar to you. The Equifax leak may have been open since May.
3. Shred personal documents before disposal.
4. Sign up for the free TrustedID Premier service from Equifax. Credit monitoring may not prevent identity fraud, but the service includes insurance to compensate users for losses from identity theft. Use this link to start.
5. If you are a AAA member, ProtectMyID identity theft monitoring is free with membership. You do need to proactively sign up. A deluxe service is also available, for $8.95 a month. Similar services without a discount typically cost $15-$20 per month.
6. Many credit card providers now offer customers access to their credit scores, updated on a monthly basis online. While the score does not provide specific details, if you notice an unexpected material change from one month to the next it could be an indicator of suspicious activity.
Security experts warn that complete protection is impossible. The best practice is to stay vigilant in looking after personal information.