ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s no way around it: The news from credit reporting company Equifax that 143 million Americans had their information exposed is very serious.
For consumers, it may be time to get active and take measures to lock down personal information, outside of the routine advice like checking credit reports to see if there are any abnormal transactions on bank accounts and credit cards.
For one thing, consumers should plan on checking this information not just in the immediate future, but for the long term – potentially years.
“It’s important to not just watch your accounts now, while this is in the news, but to continue to monitor them months from now, since the criminals who took the information may be very patient,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a news release.
Here are some things to know:
- Although Equifax has established a website so consumers can check whether their information has been stolen – www.equifaxsecurity2017.com – some have warned there might be a downside to using it. Buried in the terms of service is language in a so-called arbitration clause that appears to bar users from participating in any class-action lawsuits against the company, the Washington Post reported. In response, Equifax removed that provision. Equifax is advising that regardless of whether a consumer’s information may have been affected, he or she has the option to sign up for credit-file monitoring and identity-theft protection for one year at no cost. The enrollment period for the offering ends Tuesday, Nov. 21.
- Consumers also can contact Equifax by phone for more information at 866-447-7559.
- The strongest possible option a person can take immediately is installing a credit freeze on their files with Equifax and the two other major credit bureaus – TransUnion and Experian. A credit freeze locks down a person’s information, making it impossible to open new accounts and bank cards in their name. This means that an individual can’t immediately open new accounts, although the freeze can be lifted when needed. In New Mexico, a credit freeze costs $10 – unless you’re 65 or older or you know you’ve been a victim of identity theft. “The credit freeze is the nuclear option of credit protection. But in the wake of a breach this big, it’s worth considering,” said Matt Schultz, an analyst with CreditCards.com.
- Enable two-factor authentication. Equifax was hacked, but cellphones were not. So this can be used as another layer of protection when people log into their email accounts and financial websites.
- Plan ahead and file your taxes early – as soon as you have the tax information you need, the Federal Trade Commission advises. The point is to do it before any scammer does. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
- An even more extreme step? People can request to change their Social Security number with the Social Security Administration if they have repeatedly been a victim of identity fraud under their original number.