On September 7, Equifax—one of America’s three largest credit agencies—announced that it was the victim of a cyberattack that may have exposed 143 million Americans personal information to criminals. This information included social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and driver’s licenses.
Equifax created a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, that you can visit to see if your information may have been exposed. If you were, Equifax is offering a free subscription to TrustedID Premier, which offers “3-Bureau credit monitoring of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports; copies of Equifax credit reports; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports; identity theft insurance; and Internet scanning for Social Security numbers – all complimentary to U.S. consumers for one year.”
While breaches like Equifax’s are largely out of our control, there are steps one can take to be proactive in protecting their identity:
- Invest in a shredder. “Dumpster diving”—when a thief goes through your trash—is an easy way for them to obtain your information. Shred anything with personal information on it, including: bank and credit card statements, receipts, medical information, and credit card solicitations.
- Review your bank and credit card statements and mail payments directly from the post office. By reviewing your statements monthly, you are able to detect whether there were any unauthorized charges. When paying your bills, mail the checks from the post office instead of your mailbox. Should a thief steal your envelope, they can access your name, address, account numbers, and bank information (including routing and account number) from your check.
- Check your credit reports annually. Federal law requires that the three largest credit agencies provide free credit reports every 12 months. Pick a time of year that works best for you and order a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
- Never provide your account numbers, social security number, or bank information over the telephone unless it is an institution that you are familiar with. If someone calls you, get their information including name and institution, and call back through the phone contact information provided by your institution to ensure it was a legitimate inquiry.
- If you suspect your identity has been compromised, discuss with your tax professional whether you should obtain an Identity Protection Pin (IP PIN) from the IRS. The IP PIN is a 6 digit number that is given to you by the IRS which you will need to e-file your tax return. This will help prevent misuse of social security numbers and fraudulent filing of tax returns.