Were you affected by the Equifax breach?
Last week, one of the big three Credit Reporting Agencies, Equifax, reported a massive data breach leaving an estimated 143 million people in the US, UK, and Canada at risk of identity theft. Hackers got a hold of personal information such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers, and credit card numbers.
Let’s take a minute to put that in perspective.
The reason that these Credit Reporting Agencies exist is to keep track of pretty much every aspect of your financial life–from where you’ve lived to every single credit card or loan payment you’ve ever made–all of it linked back to your Social Security Number. Now, thanks to this data breach, more than 1 in 3 Americans has had that information hacked and is at risk of identity theft. This is not the biggest data breach to date, but it is perhaps the most important because of the nature of the information that was stolen.
Take these steps
As scary as this cyber attack may be, there are a few simple steps that you can take to protect yourself from identity theft. In this case, you primarily want to make sure that no one can open any credit card accounts or take out any loans using in your name using stolen information. Here’s what you should do now:
1) Assume that your data has been compromised.
As we said before, more than 1 in 3 Americans has definitely had their personal data compromised. Take out all the children below 18 who don’t have much if any credit history, and it’s probably more like 50% of U.S. adults. Just assume that you’re part of the 50%.
Note: Equifax set up a website that supposedly allows you to find out if your data was compromised, but as Techcrunch reported, it’s likely not accurate. Plus, MarketWatch sheds light that using it may prevent you from participating in a class action lawsuit against Equifax. Does it surprise you that the company that allowed this breach to happen in the first place and then didn’t report it for more than two months is acting shady?
2) Sign up for credit monitoring.
Equifax is offering a year of free credit monitoring using their own credit monitoring service, but again, do you want to trust them? We recommend using CreditKarma instead. CreditKarma is completely free forever (not just for a year), and not only will they give you your credit score for free, they will also give you a heads up anytime something changes on your credit report, which is exactly what you want. Your bank may also offer similar free services, so check their website or mobile app.
3) Check your credit report regularly.
Credit monitoring is great, but you know you better than any automated service ever can. Double check what’s on your credit report every few months. There’s a whole section about how to get your credit reports for free from all three major Credit Reporting Agencies in our free ebook. You know your credit history better than any credit monitoring company. Take the time to check it.
4) Change your passwords and store them safely.
Look, you can’t keep using the same password for everything. You need separate, seriously secure passwords for every account, particularly for your financial accounts. It’s time to start using a password manager. We like LastPass or One Password.
In this digital world, all of your highly personal information is out there. These kind of data breaches are only going to become more common. However, you don’t have to wait around to be a victim of identity theft. We view it as part of our job at Rize to help you make smart decisions about all the important things in life, not just your money, so we’ll always keep you informed about how to protect yourself. Be smart, take these steps, and you’ll be in good shape.