Is your name really John Smith?
The remarks about our names started early: “Jon and Anne Smith…are you kids using your real names? I’m gonna’ need some IDs.” This was the welcome we received 46 years ago from the desk clerk at the Holiday Inn, even though our getaway car had tin cans trailing and ‘TRUE LOVE 4EVER’ painted on the back window. He was more concerned with giving us a hard time than protecting someone from identity theft. We were glad to be out of there the next day on our way to our honeymoon destination.
And so years ago, after I read an article about identity theft and common names, I signed on with Equifax (one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies) to monitor my credit. Much to my surprise, on September 7th, Equifax reported a data breach of up to 143 million consumers…a lot more than just the “Smiths.”
This breach, which happened from May to July 2017 (two months before they announced it!), could impact individuals even if they never knew their information was given to Equifax.
For those of you who do not use Equifax for your identity theft protection, you may believe that your personal information is not at risk. Not so. If you have ever borrowed money from a bank, applied for a credit card, utilities or bought an Apple iPhone, there’s a chance Equifax has your information. Several articles point to the whole credit reporting system as broken.
Are You Affected?
Equifax provides a Potential Impact Tool to “help” you and the other 143 million affected Americans: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/. Be certain to use a secure computer and an encrypted network connection before proceeding. Chances are, you will get the following message:
“Based on the information you have provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident. Click the button below to continue your enrollment in TrustedID Premier.”
We recommend enrolling in the program but you can also consider other credit monitoring services.
What To Do Next?
In addition to enrolling in credit monitoring, we recommend some follow-up steps::
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit files. If you are a North Carolina resident, you can freeze your credit for free. The downside is this could make it a hassle for you to open new accounts or take out a new loan…but that’s the hope, isn’t it?
- You should also look into freezing credit for your minor children’s files to safeguard them.
- Monitor your credit card and bank accounts closely for charges.
- Beware of any email from purporting to be from Equifax or any bank or credit card accounts which include a clickable link. Spoofers make emails look legitimate and imperative in order to lure users in with links that redirect to the hacker. Instead, go directly to the Equifax or bank or credit card websites for information.
- Beware of phone calls from anyone identifying themselves as Equifax or your bank or credit card company. Equifax, your bank or credit card company should never call asking for your personal information, account numbers, social security number or password. If they call, tell them you will call the number on the back of your credit card or the number on the Equifax website.
- Check all 3 credit reports for free by visiting this site. Make sure you recognize all the accounts listed under your name.
- Tax identity theft happens when a hacker uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or apply for a job. File tax returns as soon as possible to lower the probability that a scammer who has your social security number will file “your” tax return before you do. Take letters from the IRS seriously.
- Finally, if you still receive pre-approved credit card offerings in the mail do not place them in the trash or recycle bin, you need to shred them. You can opt out of future credit card offers cutting down the volume of junk mail you get and need to shred.
For ongoing updates and news on the data breach, you can follow Ron Lieber at the New York Times. He is a consumer advocate and has been relentless in his pursuit of answers from Equifax executives: https://www.nytimes.com/by/ron-lieber.