Now that the dust is settling, what do I do about the Equifax breach?

By now, almost everyone has heard about the major cyber breach that was announced on Thursday, September 7th.  Here are the facts, according to Equifax; The breach lasted from mid-May through July. 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 personally identifiable information for about 182,000 people.

After reading hours and hours of information and conducting our own tests, here is what we are recommending you do:

First, the website Equifax setup to help identify if you are in danger has been less than reliable.  Some tests conducted have shown that if you enter the last name Smith with a social of 123456789 that the website came back and said that you were in jeopardy.  Our official recommendation is that if you have a credit report, you act as if your information has been compromised.  So what do you do now?

Step 1) Check your free credit report.  Since this breach happened months ago, there is the potential for fraud to have already been committed.  Look for new accounts opened up and use it as a baseline for your further monitoring so it is easier to see changes.  KEEP IN MIND, credit activity does not show up right away on your report and in some instances could take months.  You have the right to get a FREE credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus once a year.  So, every 4 months you could get a free report.  You can request your free copy here.

Step 2) Be vigilant.  Keep an eye on your credit cards statements and bank accounts.  Carefully check your retirement fund statements, brokerage accounts, and any other financial statements you get.  The theft may be small in nature, and done over time.  Do not look for huge amounts of money missing, look at every dollar and cent and verify its validity.

Step 3) Put a fraud alert on your credit.  You can do this for free by contacting one of the 3 credit bureaus and they are required by law to notify the other two.  When you put a fraud alert on your credit card it means that you will be contacted if anyone tries to apply for credit in your name.  PLEASE NOTE: Fraud alerts only last for 90 days, but you can call and renew it at no cost.  If you have reason to suspect you are seriously at risk, we recommend that you call all 3 credit bureaus and put a freeze on your credit. A freeze will block anyone, including you, from being able to open any new accounts in your name.  Putting a freeze on your account is not free, there is a minimal cost to do this, generally in the $5 to $10 range.

Step 4) Apply for credit monitoring or identity theft protection.  Honestly, in our opinion, this day in age, this is something every American with a credit report should have anyway.  There are a range of services offered and the more you want, the more you will have to pay.  We recommend at the very least you sign up for credit monitoring and if you have extra $ to spare we would recommend you pay for dark web monitoring as well.  Equifax is offering this for free in light of their breach, however, we are not recommending you do this.  We recommend the following 2 companies for credit monitoring, identity theft and dark web monitoring:  Experian or Lifelock (who is currently offering a risk-free 60 day trial).

In summary, cybercrime is here to stay.  It is imperative that you be vigilant and thoroughly check all financial statements and get your free credit report every 4 months from 1 of the 3 credit bureaus and review it at length.