This article was initially published in The New York Times on September 10, 2017.
Same story, different details: A massive company (this time, Equifax) was breached by hackers, exposing the private information of millions of people to nefarious actors in who-knows-where.
Hacks like these have become an unfortunate hazard of modern society that we have to protect ourselves against. Locking down your digital life does only so much; we are still at the mercy of security systems from the companies that hold our most valuable information. (Still, here are nine easy steps to protect your digital life, and here are the two online security steps you should stop putting off.)
The big lesson here: Prepare yourself; this will happen again. If you’re affected by the Equifax hack – you can check here, but you should assume you are anyway just to be safe – here are some steps you should take.
Set up fraud alerts
Your first step should be to establish fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax (yes, the very company that caused this), Experian and TransUnion. This will alert you if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.
It’s also wise to set up fraud alerts for credit and debit cards. The steps will vary depending on your banks or credit unions, but these alerts should be a regular part of your digital security.
Consider credit freezes
A credit freeze will lock your credit files so that only companies you already do business with will have access to them. Smarter Living pal Ron Lieber has more details here, but in a nutshell, once you sign up for a freeze:
“… the bureaus are not supposed to release your credit report to any company except the ones that already have you as a customer. Why is this important? When a thief shows up with your Social Security number and address to apply for credit in your name, the lender will go to fetch your credit report before anything else happens. If it can’t retrieve the report because of the freeze, then no new account for the thief.”
Check your credit report
All Americans are entitled to one free credit report every year from all three major reporting agencies, accessible at annualcreditreport.com. Experts advise spreading these out over the year, checking in about once every four months.
Closely analyzing your credit report can help you spot any suspicious activity. And because the Equifax breach will have long-term consequences, it’s a good idea to start checking your report as part of your regular financial routines for the next few years.
Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring to all Americans, but you might want to think twice before signing up: Close readers of the agreement noted that deep “in the terms of service is language that appears to bar those who enroll in an Equifax credit monitoring program from participating in any class-action lawsuits that may arise from the incident,” The Washington Post reported.