By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
Have you been the victim of identity theft? You might not even know it yet.
On Sept. 7, Equifax, one of the three credit-reporting agencies, disclosed a “cyber-security incident” that affected approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. That number was subsequently increased to 145.5 million consumers.
The breach, which took place from mid-May through July 2017, gave hackers consumer names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers were accessed. With this data, hackers could apply for credit cards, get a tax refund, apply for a job or even buy a house — all in your name.
Since nearly one in three Floridians has been the victim of identity theft or fraud in the past two years, according to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse survey, consumers need to act to protect themselves. Here’s some advice from the Federal Trade Commission:
First, check Equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine if your information was exposed and to sign up for credit-file monitoring and identity theft protection. The offering, called TrustedID Premier, includes credit monitoring of all three agencies, copies of your Equifax credit reports, the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports, identity theft insurance and Internet scanning for Social Security numbers — all complimentary to U.S. consumers for one year.
Monitor your credit reports from all three reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — by visiting annualcreditreport.com and requesting a free credit report.
Keep a close eye on existing credit card and bank accounts to make sure there are no unusual charges or debits.
Consider a fraud alert, which warns creditors that you might be an identity-theft victim and that they need to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.
A better choice is to place a credit freeze with the credit-reporting agencies. That makes it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name. Note, however, that you need to contact all three credit-reporting agencies to do so and that there is a cost involved to both place the freeze and lift it. And, if you intend to apply for credit — to take out a loan, for example — you will need to lift that freeze.
File your taxes as early as possible to prevent a scammer from filing in your name and getting a tax refund.