The Equifax Leak: Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Millions of people were shocked after learning that Equifax experienced a breach in their security, and jeopardized approximately 143 million people’s credit and identity. Important pieces of personal data were compromised that could be used to steal peoples identities.

Information like social security numbers, legal names, birthdates, and home addresses were among the data that was stolen. The breach occurred between mid-May and July, and was discovered on July 29 of this year. For some reason, Equifax decided not to disclose that information until September 8, and many people want to know how and if they were affected by the breach. To that end, we’ve compiled what we know, and how you can protect yourself.

Monitor your credit

A man takes out banknotes from an automated teller machine (ATM)

A man takes out bank notes from an automated teller machine (ATM) | JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images

The first thing is to monitor your credit score moving forward. Experts suggest that you check your score about every four months. US law guarantees that every American has access to their credit report once a year for free. You also have to monitor all of your accounts for abnormal transactions. There are some agencies that offer to provide you with credit reports, but the official one can be found on the official Annual Credit Report website.

Next: Here’s something you should be doing anyway

Sign up for fraud alerts

A chip and pin debit console is seen

A chip and pin debit console is seen | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Fraud alerts can be very useful in protecting yourself from identity thieves, typically something you can arrange through your credit card company or bank. This is probably the easiest way to make sure no one tries to fraudulently open an account using your identity. Generally, you are alerted anytime an account is opened in your name by phone or message. Most also offer insurance on any theft executed.

Next: This next step should be in cases of emergency 

Freeze your credit

Credit cards falling down are pictured

Credit cards falling down are pictured | DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

This option is good if you’ve dealt with identity theft on multiple occasions. Essentially you’ll have to get in contact with the main credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion), and put a freeze on approving any new credit. Essentially, anytime anyone wanted to open a credit card, bank account, or anything else those agencies would stop it from happening.

Next: This next step is considered the “Nuclear Option”

The nuclear option

Pedestrians walk past the Social Security Administration office in downtown Los Angeles

Pedestrians walk past the Social Security Administration office in downtown Los Angeles | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Many Americans think that they are stuck with the same exact social security number they were given at birth or when they became citizens. This is not the case. If you really want to flip the proverbial desk because of repeated and never ending fraud in your name, you may want to consider changing your social security number entirely. This would be an option only if all else has failed however, as it can be an arduous task to say the very least.

Next: Are you a victim of the Equifax leak?

How do you know if your identity was involved in the latest leak

People walk by the New York Stock Exchange

People walk by the New York Stock Exchange | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the case of the Equifax leak, they have set up a website in which you can input your information and see if you were in the compromised files. The website is a little tricky to navigate, so we are going to save you some time (link here). If you are affected by the leak, Equifax is offering “free” credit monitoring in exchange for arbitration, although that also means you can’t sue them for anything involving the leak, a move that’s gotten the CEO of Equifax blasted by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Members of Congress have since told Equifax to rescind those stipulations. You can monitor updates from Equifax here.

Next: Are you a victim of Identity Theft and not know it?

How to know if your identity has been stolen in general

A stock broker sits in front of a board displaying German share index DAX

A stock broker sits in front of a board displaying German share index DAX | THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images

The simple fact is that there are very nefarious people out there who will steal your identity. Most of the time, any attempt can be remedied through your bank or credit card company. If you want to know, it’s as easy as following the first step we talked about in this article. Always monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. If you think you are a victim of identity theft, call all three of the credit agencies and check with their fraud department. You can also get fraud protection for a little more security and peace of mind.

Next: How long do you have to monitor your credit?

How long do you have to live like this?

A student works on the mechanism of a wristwatch as he attends a class at the secondary school Mare de Deu de la Merce

A student works on the mechanism of a wristwatch as he attends a class at the secondary school Mare de Deu de la Merce | David Ramos/Getty Images

Simply put, forever. It’s also wise and responsible to be proactive in protecting your assets. Your credit is one of your assets in this world. Any time there is a leak, these criminals will hold on to that information for a long time. Matt Schulz, an analyst with CreditCards.com, told Fox News that “bad guys can be very patient with data. This should be a wake-up call to be even more diligent with your information.” At the very least, this is all a good reminder to safeguard your personal information as much as humanly possible.

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