By now, you’ve likely heard about the Equifax data breach, and how it might potentially harm you or a loved one. What can you do to protect yourself or an older family member?
First, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that individuals monitor their current credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges, and file tax returns early.
Any unauthorized changes to your credit or bank accounts could indicate that your identity has been stolen. Other warning signs of identity theft, according to the FTC, include unauthorized bank withdrawals, your bills no longer sent to your address, or businesses no longer accepting your checks.
You may also consider reviewing these other resources on what the government and others are saying about how you can protect yourself.
1. According to the FTC, and others, Equifax has set up a website, where you can check if you were one of the 143 million Americans, whose personal data was compromised. On the website, you can also sign up for free credit-monitoring by Equifax. Visit the website here.
a. However, the Chicago Tribune reports that users have entered “fake names” and fake social security numbers, and still have gotten a response from the website.
b. Also, initially it was reported that when people signed up at the Equifax site, they automatically waived their right to sue Equifax. According to Time Magazine, Equifax has since retracted on that matter.
2. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also recommends individuals consider putting a “Fraud Alert” or “Credit Freeze” on their credit reports. This can be done through any of the three major credit bureaus – of which Equifax is one.
a. A “Fraud Alert,” according to the CFPB, will require creditors and credit card companies to take extra precautions “to verify your identity” before they can open a new credit card/account for you or someone pretending to be you. To open a Fraud Alert, individuals need only contact one of the three major credit bureaus; the credit bureau contacted is required to notify the other two. Fraud alerts are good for 90 days, but can be extended.
b. A “Credit Freeze,” according to the CFPB, locks your credit report so that creditors are unable to view it, which makes it unlikely that a creditor would be willing to open a new account in your name. A Credit Freeze, the FTC reports, lasts until you remove it. To initiate a Credit Freeze, individuals must contact all three credit bureaus and pay the required fee. Equifax, however, has waived its fees, according to the New York Times. One thing to be aware of with a Credit Freeze is that individuals must remember a PIN number, assigned to them by each credit bureau, in order to lift the Freeze.
3. The FTC also recommends that individuals continue to monitor their credit on their own by annually accessing their own credit report for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. The federal CFPB website includes information about private pay credit- and identity monitoring services.
Finally, if you suspect that your identity was stolen, the FTC offers detailed advice via its free 40 page publication, Identity Theft: A Recovery Plan. It’s abridged four page publication, Identity Theft: What to Know, What to Do; and its Identity Theft webpage, which you can access here.
We hope you find these resources valuable.
By Leland Kiang, LICSW
Leland Kiang, LICSW is manager of Iona’s Information & Referral Helpline, whose staff answers questions about senior services throughout the DC metro area. Leland also has written articles for BIFOCAL, Unite Virginia, and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.