As you may have read, Equifax was recently hacked. This is a big deal because Equifax is one of four credit rating services, called Credit Bureaus (the other three are Experian, Trans Union and Innovis). Credit bureaus harvest (and sell) the financial data and credit ratings of almost every citizen in the United States. And unfortunately, over 143 million Equifax records may be compromised. Their records include people’s names, Social Security Numbers, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.
Many of you may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself. The following steps are recommended by the SANS Institute.
- Sign up for Credit Monitoring: You can sign up for free for Equifax’s TrustedID credit monitoring service (Note: you will be given an enrollment date and asked to return to this site on that date.) Credit monitoring does NOT protect you from credit card fraud, this is a common misconception. What a credit monitoring service does is notify you when someone is attempting to commit Identity Fraud in your name, such as registering for a new credit card or bank loan. Some services also help you recover from Identity Theft.
- Place a Security Freeze on your credit: This is the action that does the most to protect you. Unfortunately, few people know about it. What a security freeze does is lock your credit scores so no one can access them. This means that while your credit score is frozen no bank or financial organization (such as a credit card company) can check what your credit score is, which means no one will give you (or a criminal pretending to be you) a loan or credit card. The challenge is you must manually setup a security freeze with each of the four credit bureaus. In addition, if you want to get a new loan or credit card, you then must manually unlock your credit service. Then again, how often do you apply for a new loan or credit card? Brian Krebs has an outstanding writeup of what a Security Freeze is and how to get one.
- Monitor your financial accounts: Watch your bank and credit card accounts carefully. Many of them have a service where they notify you (via text or email) if a bank withdraw or credit card charge is over a certain limit, or can send you daily reports of your activity. We highly recommend you enable at least one of these.
- Look out for Social Engineering attacks: Be warned, in the coming days/weeks, cyber attackers will take advantage of this incident and launch millions of phishing emails, phone calls or text messages trying to fool people. Be extra vigilant and suspicious of any communications related to your credit, financial accounts, or the Equifax breach.