It’s only been a couple of weeks since the massive Equifax data breach was made public, but already scammers are pouncing on the opportunity to lure victims into handing over personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission posted a scam alert recently warning consumers not to respond to phone calls from anyone claiming to be an Equifax representative and requesting account verification information. Equifax isn’t making personal phone calls to victims of the data breach, which impacted some 143 million Americans.
Since the hack was made public, it was revealed that hackers gained access to loads of sensitive information, like Social Security numbers, addresses, names and dates of birth. That’s plenty of information for any would-be fraudster to create fraudulent financial accounts or other forms of identity theft.
Lawmakers are already investigating the breach, and senior executives at Equifax have stepped down in the wake of the announcement.
Here's what you can do to protect your identity after the hack.
Monitor your credit
Equifax is offering one year of free credit and identity monitoring services via TrustedID Premier. You can sign up at Equifaxsecurity2017.com. There are other ways to monitor your credit as well.
MagnifyMoney has an entire guide explaining how you can monitor your credit and protect against identity theft for free. Check it out here. Some services charge monthly fees but offer more comprehensive coverage, like alerts any time someone attempts to open a new financial account in your name.
Here are a few ways to monitor your credit for free:
Sign up for a credit freeze
You can freeze your credit so no one can apply for new credit using your name and Social Security number. It won’t protect you from people using your existing accounts, however, which is why it’s important to monitor your accounts carefully.
You have to freeze your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus. If you want to take out credit yourself, you’ll have to “thaw” each report later. You may be charged a fee for freezing and thawing your report, although Equifax has said it will waive that fee.
Set up for credit and debit alerts
A free way to monitor any unusual spending on your financial accounts is to set up alerts with your bank and credit card accounts. They can text or send you an email any time someone makes a charge over a certain amount using your account. Banks are pretty good at determining when a charge is fraudulent, but if you can immediately identify a purchase you didn’t make as soon as it was charged, you can give your bank the heads up and get the card closed immediately. That means the scammer won’t be able to do any more damage.
Sign up for two-factor authorization on any account that offers it
You should set up multifactor authentication wherever possible — from your email to your credit card account. This means that any time someone tries to access your account from an unknown device, you’ll be sent a text message with a special code. If you are the person trying to sign in from a different device, all you have to do is input the code and you’ll be cleared. But if it’s a scammer, they’ll have no way to access your account unless they have that code on your phone.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.