The news cycle moves so fast these days that it can be difficult to keep up. Even so, sometimes a news story breaks that is so big it pays to circle back around and keep on top of the latest details. Such is the case with the Equifax breach, which affected nearly 146 million Americans.
News of the breach of highly sensitive personal financial data, which initially broke in September, has everyone on edge. The breach resulted in hackers gaining access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other personal information on millions of Americans for more than a month between May and June of 2017.
The best thing you can do is arm yourself with the most up-to-date information about what happened—and what to do going forward. Here are the latest details.
Hackers Likely Had Your Data Even Before the Equifax Breach
The latest headlines regarding the Equifax breach go something like this: relax, your data was already stolen before this particular crack even occurred. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said at an October 17 briefing on the agency’s Security Summit, a joint effort with state tax agencies and the private sector, that hackers probably already had your private information before the Equifax debacle.
According to Koskinen, the IRS does not expect the Equifax data breach to have a major effect on the upcoming tax filing season. The agency is assuring filers that its data security efforts ahead of the 2018 tax filing season have made tremendous progress guarding against tax-related identity theft. As reported by The Hill, the agency has seen the number of identity theft-related tax returns decline by two-thirds in two years.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Still, it’s not a good idea to pretend this breach never happened. Savvy Americans are vigilant Americans. The Federal Trade Commission offers several key tips for protecting your personal information in the wake of this breach:
- Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by visiting annualcreditreport.com. This is free to do. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Since there are three main credit bureaus, check your report from each one throughout the year, staggered, so you always have up-to-date information about what’s on file.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. A credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts, but it does make it nearly impossible to open a new one. The problem with a freeze it that it makes it more difficult for you to apply for financing yourself. You’ll be issued a special PIN to temporarily unlock the freeze.
- Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize. This should be done at least weekly.
- If you decide not to do a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
- File your taxes early. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. This is more difficult for a scammer to do if you final as soon as possible.
Will Lawmakers Help Us?
In addition to being vigilant, it’s not unreasonable to demand action from our legislators. Congress has held four hearings related to the Equifax breach in October. These hearings, according to The Hill, have covered several potential measures for how to improve notifications and response in the wake of a breach.
One measure would require notification following a breach of security of a system containing personal information. Another would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide access to free credit freezes for all consumers. A third potential measure would require the extension of identity theft and credit monitoring services for victims to 10 years. As representative debate changes to the law, consumers are mostly left to their own devices.
By Laura Schaefer
Laura Schaefer has written articles for publications and websites including Business.com, Match.com, and Entrepreneur.com. Learn more by visiting lauraschaeferwriter.com.