Nearly half of all Americans — as many as 143 million people — have had their sensitive information exposed in the massive Equifax data breach. If your name is among the affected, your Social Security number, address, credit card information, driver's license number and birthday could all be on the hard drive of the cyber criminals who executed the attack. So what steps can you take to protect yourself now? We have some suggestions.
Find out if you've been hacked
First, you need to know if you're under threat. Equifax will let you check your account's status under the hack at its consumer information page. Identity theft protection services and credit monitoring also are available. Equifax also has a call line available for customers affected by the hack at 866-447-7559. Remember you don't have to be an Equifax customer to be at risk, as the credit reporting agency may have your information if you've ever sought a bank loan, a mortgage or even a credit card.
Request a credit freeze
A credit freeze with all three major bureaus will make it harder for hackers to exploit your data. Consumer advocacy group The National Consumer Law Center has called for Equifax to pay for those freezes, which the NCLC calls "the most effective measure" to secure the type of stolen information important to this hack. Both Iowa and Illinois are among the 35 states that offer credit freezes, with each state charging $10 for the service. For more information on Iowa's freeze, visit its site.
Watch your accounts closely
Criminals can be patient. So if your information has been exposed, keep an eye on your online bank statements and credit card reports as closely as you can, for as long as you can. Checking your accounts daily was already a good safeguard against fraud, but now, it's essential, especially once the hack has stopped appearing in the daily news cycle and criminals think you've let your guard down.
Enroll in an identity theft protection service
Besides Equifax, there are dozens of other companies that provide insurance for identity theft victims or that specialize in identity recovery. The Federal Trade Commission has a list of firms on its site, along with a step-by-step guide to recovery.