By now you’ve probably heard about the latest news in security breaches: the hacking of Equifax. This data breach was extensive, leaving over 144 million Americans compromised. The hackers accessed names, date of birth, addresses, phone numbers, social security, driver’s licenses and credit card numbers. To find out if you were impacted, you can check here. If you were affected—and even if you weren’t—here are some steps you can take to protect your credit.

  1. Freeze Your Credit: This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself. Freezing your credit locks your credit files from anyone who is not a company you are already doing business with. Once you place the freeze, if someone who now has all your personal information tries to apply for credit in your name, the new lender will be denied access to your report. Denial to your report means no credit for identity thieves. You can place a freeze individually with the three credit bureaus or find a service to do all the heavy lifting. There are typically fees for placing the freeze, but Equifax is waiving theirs until November 12th, 2017. To get started by freezing your credit with Equifax, click here.
  2. Get Fraud Alerts: Placing a fraud alert on your credit is another great way to avoid identity theft. A fraud alert adds extra steps for lenders to verify the activity on your account. You can choose from three types of alerts, varying from 90 days to 7 years. Fraud alerts can also be placed on credit and debit cards, which is highly recommended. The best part of this protection is that it’s completely free. Usually when contacting one credit bureau they will contact the others, but be sure to verify so n’t leave yourself vulnerable.
  3.  Look at your Credit Reports: Credit reports are records of all your credit history. You are allowed one free credit report from each credit bureau a year. Take advantage of these reports. Checking your credit report every couple of months will provide you the chance to catch any suspicious activity. Click here for more information on credit reports.
  4.  Other options:If you want to take any extra precautions, there are a couple more options. You can monitor your credit by enrolling with a credit monitoring company. Equifax is offering their credit monitoring service free of charge for a year. Another suggestion is to be on your toes during tax season. Identity thieves could file taxes in your name before you have the chance to file. To avoid this potential issue be sure to file your taxes early.

An event like the Equifax hacking can have unfortunate consequences, but there are steps you can take to protect your credit and your personal information. If you are affected by a security breach of a company or government entity, your ability to open credit or obtain a mortgage is not impacted unless your credit is ultimately compromised by the breach. Be proactive! If you have any questions about the Equifax data breach, or about protecting your information, reach out to a financial advisor. For more information about this topic, be sure to check out this interview with General Counsel at NFM Lending, LaTasha Rowe.