If you were not yet convinced
that your personal data was at risk from cyber thieves, the latest breach of
143 million consumer records at credit bureau Equifax should scare you
Nick Clements, co-founder of
personal finance site magnifymoney.com, goes about his daily life just assuming
that his data will be stolen at some point. The irony is not lost on him that
the latest incident involves a company tasked with tracking people’s credit and
selling identity theft protection services.
“If this wakes people up that
their data is at risk, that’s good,” Clements said.
You can check to see if you were
personally affected by the Equifax breach by entering in part of your Social
Security number at equifaxsecurity2017.com. Or just assume that you were.
Whether or not your data was
compromised through this, or some other means, the instructions for how to live
in the shadow of identity theft are still the same.
“It’s important that people don’t
panic that this info is out there. It’s also important that they don’t take it
too lightly, either,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at
The first step Schulz recommends
is to get your credit reports from the three bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion and
Experian - and make sure all of the information is correct. You are due one
free credit report per year through the bureaus (annualcreditreport.com).
Next, figure out how to keep an
eye on all your accounts. For those who used to balance a checkbook, the
process will seem familiar - you need to make sure that everything the bank
says you paid for, you actually did.
If you have given up this sort of
oversight, check your transactions online frequently. “The more often you
check, the easier it is to do, because you have fewer things to go through,”
Clements says he has alerts set
up from his accounts and gets a text after every transaction more than a penny.
“Some say that’s overkill, but the minute a charge goes through that I didn’t
authorize, I know about it,” he said.
Monitoring so many accounts might
get tedious, which may prompt some people to trim the number of accounts they
have, particularly bank accounts at different institutions where they would
have multiple log-ins to manage and too many credit cards.
“It will make your life less
hectic,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security
The most important account to
manage and protect is your email, which is a gateway to all your financial
accounts, including your tax records.
“Make sure that’s the most
difficult account for other people to access,” said Kaiser.
authentication that requires a code to be sent to you via your phone, or
another device always in your possession, will help thwart both cyber criminals
and more common thieves who know you personally.
Another option is credit
monitoring programs, which are often offered free for a period of time for
those affected by a data breach. Kaiser says there is no need to sign up with
more than one if you are already enrolled for free due to one breach or
Ongoing monitoring for a monthly
fee starting around $10 is also an option, and the service may also may come in
a package with identify theft resolution, which Clements finds valuable.
Otherwise, if something goes wrong, you will have to go through a long
checklist of steps to remedy the situation, which is available at
identitytheft.gov, a leading resource for information.
“It really is all about being
diligent on the back end, because there are so many things that you can’t
control,” said Schulz.