With the recent Equifax data breach, you’re probably wondering how to tell if a thief is using your stolen information, and how. Unfortunately, there are a number of nefarious activities to watch out for when your Social Security number has been compromised.
Opening a fake account is the most common thing someone will do with your Social Security number, but it’s one of the least damaging things they can do. Criminals can literally take over your identity and use it to steal medical goods, commit serious crimes, file false tax returns, create fake children to go with the identity, and even create problems with mortgages and home deeds. Not good.
So what do you do about this whole data breach?
First, check the potential impact at Equifax’s TrustedID website. You’ll have to enter the last 6-digits of your Social Security number and your last name, and the site will tell you if there’s reason to believe your information has been stolen. Don’t worry, the site is completely secure. Asking for 6 digits is a little unusual but it helps to ensure the data is accurate.
The site will tell you instantly how likely it is you’ve been hacked. Equifax is offering complimentary credit reports, 3 bureau credit file monitoring, credit report lock, social security number monitoring, and $1 million identity theft insurance to consumers for free to make up for their blunder.
Second, and most importantly, monitor your credit report on your own. You can use a credit monitoring service like Equifax’s TrustedID (which they’re offering for free—obviously), but it’s probably best if you also check your credit reports regularly yourself. You’re entitled to a free copy of your report from each of the three major bureaus each year (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and you can grab your copy at Annual Credit Report.
If anyone has opened a line of credit in your name, it will show up on your report and you’ll have to dispute it. If there’s fraudulent activity, you should contact each of the three credit reporting agencies to dispute the inaccurate item(s). We hope you never have to, but here’s the contact info for all three bureaus:
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division, PO Box 740256,
Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian Fraud Center
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Transunion Fraud Alert
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department,
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Finally, consider putting a freeze and a fraud alert on all three of your credit reports if your data has likely been stolen. Some states may impose a fee for this, but Equifax is waiving that charge right now.
It’s absolutely critical to review your credit report regularly, not just right now in the wake of the data breach. Stay smart and be proactive about your sensitive information, and you’ll avoid the headache of identity theft.