When the news first broke out about the Equifax Credit Breach I was extremely concerned (still am) and I did some research to find out what steps we could take to protect ourselves from possible identity theft. Every bit of personal and financial information for almost everyone in the country has been stolen. They say that these criminals will place it all on the "dark web" for other criminals to buy. They can get all your information for $50 and then start opening credit cards, take out loans, empty bank accounts, use your driver's license info to run up tickets, use your social security number to compromise your retirement . . . the list goes on and on. If anyone does get your information, your life will be consumed by phone calls trying to undo the damage they have done. And they aren't going to open just one credit card account at a time either. A girl on the news said twelve accounts were opened in her name and it was up to her to contact all these companies and try to close them. So there is plenty to worry about. There are some steps you can take to protect yourself or at least make it much more difficult for criminals to use your information if they get it. This is what I learned.
These are things you should consider doing and some must be done before freezing your credit reports.
1. Get free copies of your credit reports for a baseline record of your credit at this point in time from www.annualcreditreport.com for you and your family members and print them.
2. Change your passwords on your bank accounts to make them more secure, that includes retirement plans you have at work.
3. Monitor your online credit cards and bank accounts for fraudulent transactions so you can report them immediately.
4. Sign up for paid credit monitoring/Identity Theft protection and then give them time to check your credit report before freezing your credit reports. We are using Identity Guard Total Protection with first 30 days free and discount from this link a couple would cost $23 a month with this link.
They will monitor many things including SS#s and address, bank accounts, and credit cards for any changes. You must do this before freezing your credit with all three bureaus so they can access and monitor your credit.
Discover provides some free monitoring services and Credit Karma is also free if you want additional monitoring
Credit Freeze is the last step after you have fully completed the credit monitoring process.
5. Call all the credit bureaus and place a freeze on your credit reports so no one can get a copy. Freeze will stay on indefinitely and has to be removed a few days before if you want to take out a loan or open an account. You can also place Credit alerts on your credit but they only last 90 days and must be renewed. You can contact the credit bureaus online or by phone.
Equifax 1 800 349 9960 Had to do Equifax online here https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp Then print out the page with your pin number
Experian 1 888 397-3742 They will email your pin numbers to you
Transunion 1 888 909-8872 They will ask you for a 6 number PIN so have one ready to tell them or they will end the call. Then they will send you an email with that 6 digit pin # for your files
I have been assured by several small savings banks that the only way to make withdrawals is with a passbook at the bank. There is no online access. You may want to consider that if you have a large sum of money in the bank that you aren't using.
6. File TAX RETURNS early so no one can beat you to it and get your refund.
If you don't have time to bother with all this and want a short cut solution I would recommend getting an online credit monitoring service and, once that is in place and has access to your credit, then you should freeze your credit with all three major credit bureaus.