Before the Equifax breach, identity thieves made it hard enough to protect your finances. But few people expected them to hack straight into the source of consumers’ most protected identity data: a credit bureau.
Now many people are left panicking about what to do next, and trust in credit bureau database security has been shattered. Thankfully, there are some ways to protect yourself.
Why you should be concerned
Hackers were able to access identification data for an estimated 145 million consumers, including credit card numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, and drivers licenses.
What isn’t as widely known is that the hackers first broke into the database in March 2017 — 6 months ago. So they’ve had access to this data (and the chance to potentially resell it on the dark web) for at least that long.
But much more is at risk than typical financial identity fraud. Here are 4 other types of fraud that could occur.
- Government identity fraud: When thieves steal and sell your identity documents to someone needing to create a new identity, it’s called “government documents and benefits fraud.” They try to use your identity to get employment, government benefits, government contracts, file tax returns, and even U.S. citizenship.
- Medical identity fraud: With your social security number, someone needing medical care can get health care in your name. They could stick you with the bill and even ruin your medical history, making it hard for you to get care.
- Criminal identity fraud: With your drivers license, date of birth, and social security number, someone could put their face on your identity. Then, if they’re arrested and insist they’re you, you’d have a criminal record to erase.
- Child identity theft. By getting access to your tax records using your identity data, thieves get access to your children’s social security numbers. They can use those to commit all types of identity fraud in your child’s name, creating a mess for you or your kids when it comes to getting credit, jobs, housing, or other opportunities.
Most often, identity theft is minor and easy to repair. But, in some cases, it’s severe and can require substantial time and resources — including legal help — to reconstruct your credit.
How to maintain control over your financial life
The first step, of course, is to visit Equifax.com to find out if you’re one of the millions whose personal data got exposed. After you establish your status, there are several steps you should take to protect yourself and your kids.
1. Get your credit reports immediately
You can obtain them for free on AnnualCreditReport.com. Reviewing them now will give you a baseline for where your credit is today. Look for accounts and collection entries that aren’t yours and get it corrected. Then, track new, inconsistent, or inaccurate credit report entries throughout the year by getting one of these reports every 4 months.
2. Lock down your identity
If you haven’t done it yet, get credit freezes put on all your credit reports — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Doing this at Equifax gets a freeze put on your social security identity, too, so it’s harder to steal your social security benefits.
3. Request your drivers license records every year
Check for attempts to use your ID for illegal activity, including speeding tickets, accidents, or criminal offenses you didn’t commit. Contact your state authorities if you find anything suspicious.
4. Obtain your medical records and health insurance statements annually
Get your medical records from the Medical Information Bureau and examine them carefully for fraud. Request health insurance statements from your insurer as well and report fraud to insurers and medical providers right away. Then, be vigilant getting fraud removed from your records since hospitals or health insurers might not believe you got targeted for medical identity theft.
5. Consider credit monitoring services
Many offer different services, but not all offer what you need. Get a plan that helps you detect any use of your identity, informs you immediately, and assists you in fixing any fraud. Make sure you research them thoroughly to ensure they’re legitimate.
Stay on top of your identity data
To help ensure you’re not a vicitm of fraud, keep your and your children’s identity data updated. If you’ve already been targeted, report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission, your state authorities, and local law enforcement. There are also nonprofits, like the Identity Theft Resource Center, that offer tips and support to help you restore your identity.
But no matter what, keep working until your identity is fixed.