In the wake of the Equifax data leak, where over 143 million Americans had information leaked to hackers, Americans are wearier than ever about having their private information stored online. Unfortunately at this day in age, it’s virtually impossible to keep your personal information offline and out of credit bureaus, so the all Americans should consider themselves as potential victims of this particular attack, as well as any future ones.
This does not mean that you should panic or feel paranoid about identity theft or fraud, but it does mean that you should put some habits in place that will help you to protect your information and act as quickly as possible in the event that you are a victim of identity theft. This article offers 5 easy things you can do to keep your data and your money safe from online threats.
- Check if you are affected – Equifax has made it possible for you to check if you are affected or possibly affected by the leak. The first thing you should do is log on to equifaxsecurity2017.com and enter in your information to see the level of your risk. While this does not give you a clear cut answer if your data was affected, and while being affected does not necessarily mean you will have your information stolen, it can give you a place to start when it comes to building a plan.
- If you are affected, sign up for free credit monitoring– For those who are potentially affected by the leak, Equifax offers you the option to enroll in their credit monitoring program for free. By entering your information, you will be able to take advantage of an advanced credit monitoring program that can seriously reduce your risk of identity theft. While it doesn’t make up for exposing your information, it is something worth signing up for. If you were not affected, Equifax does not offer you this option, so it may be a good idea to look into signing up for an inexpensive credit monitoring program yourself. Just because you were not affected by the Equifax leak does not mean you are not at risk.
- Check your credit score regularly or freeze your credit altogether– Of course, one of the most important things to do to make sure you are not a victim of identity theft is to check your credit score. If someone has opened a credit card in your name, you might not know this until you check your score and see the history. Transunion and Experian are two reliable credit bureaus you can use to track your credit score. You can also enroll in free options like Credit Karma, a website that monitors your credit and sends you email updates if it goes up or down. However, keep in mind that these kinds of websites do not always give 100% accurate reports of your score.
If you are really concerned about being affected by the Equifax leak, you can place a temporary freeze on your credit so that nobody can open any accounts in your name for a selected period of time.
- Change your passwords– While not directly related to the Equifax leak, changing your passwords frequently and not using the same password for every account you have is one of the most important things to do in order to protect yourself online. Make sure you are changing your password every three months, and do not keep all of your passwords listed in one place.
- Create an emergency account- Events like this always put us in the mindset of “worst case scenario”, which isn’t always a bad thing. One thing that the Equifax leak can inspire you to do is ask yourself what would happen if your identity was stolen today. Most people do not have an emergency plan in place for what to do if this happens, namely having a separate bank account available with a bit of emergency money you can use if your accounts get frozen or you are dealing with legal procedures to defend your credit. Getting set up with an emergency account and a plan is a great way to minimize the damage of identity theft in the event that you become a victim.
Ultimately, there is only so much you can do to keep your information safe, and everyone is dealing with a certain level of vulnerability as soon as they begin building credit. However, you can do the best you can by staying on top of new security technologies as they are released and remaining vigilant and informed about your finances.