Cyber criminals have stolen 143 million credit records in the recent hacking scandal at the credit bureau, Equifax, and at this point you have to assume that the bad guys already have the highly personal information that they can use to trick you. You need to watch out for the following things:
- Phishing emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised
- Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record, or other personal financial information
- Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union
- Fraudulent charges on a credit card because your identity was stolen
Best advice? Don’t click on any links or open up any attachments in unsolicited emails, and hang up on phone scammers! If you need information about the status of your bank or credit card account, contact your financial institution directly.
Here are 5 things you can do to prevent identity theft:
- First, sign up for credit monitoring. There are many companies providing this service including Equifax, but you need to know that if you do sign up for Equifax’s free 1-year monitoring service, you will be unable to join any forthcoming lawsuits against the company. Also note that most if not all monitoring services charge a fee, so do your homework before signing up.
- Next freeze your credit files at the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You will have to visit each credit bureau’s website and follow their credit freeze instructions. Again, fees may apply, so do your homework.
- Check your credit reports via the free annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to 1 free report per year from EACH of the 3 credit bureaus. Best advice? Rotate your requests to download a report every 4 months. Sounds like a lot of work, but your credit history and your identity will thank you for it!
- Check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity and report it immediately
- If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, visit FTC.gov or FBI.gov for more information or to file a complaint.