The Equifax breach occurred one year ago and shocked the nation: data breach. That was all in the past and doesn’t affect us today, right? No! Still today, there are serious ramifications affecting 143 million U.S. consumers, as noted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers were all exposed by the Equifax breach. All are critical pieces of information used by identity thieves to impersonate people and conduct fraud. Even if someone didn’t use your information yet, they still could. The hackers, or whoever they sold the information to, could be waiting for the perfect time to pounce and use your information to make purchases, file income tax returns, redirect Social Security checks, or whatever else their evil mind can imagine.
It is wise to assume that someone has all of your information and could use it at any time. Just when we think it is okay to relax, it is actually time to buckle down on our cybersecurity tactics.
There are a whole host of security tactics we can deploy to protect ourselves. In this article, I present the top 3 security tips that I personally use to protect our family’s data against not only the Equifax breach but any security breach in general.
Regardless of whether you were a victim of this Equifax breach or not, it is worthwhile to consider placing a freeze on your credit. Freezing your credit will give you peace of mind that nobody can access your credit files, not even you, until you unfreeze it.
Unlike credit monitoring or fraud alerts, a security freeze stops an identity theft from happening rather than alerting you to potential fraud after it has happened.
Apply a credit freeze at each of the 3 credit bureaus:
- Equifax: 866-349-5191
Freeze your credit
- Experian: 888-397-3742
Freeze your credit
- Transunion: 888-909-8872
Freeze your credit
You will be supplied with a special PIN that only you know. That PIN must be used to gain access to your credit file or to add new credit in your name. You will need to unfreeze the accounts whenever you apply for a loan, for example, so that creditors can see your file.
To lift your freeze, for example in the case of applying for a loan, simply contact the bureau used by the lender and provide your PIN to lift the freeze for a designated time. This can be done online or over the phone. It may take a few days for the freeze to be lifted so be sure to do it a few days in advance of applying for a new loan.
Although an inconvenient process, the freezing of your credit accounts is the best thing you can do to protect against the Equifax breach or any other breach.
The good news is that earlier this year the credit bureaus made freezing and unfreezing of your account a no-charge event. See their respective websites for details.
With all of your online shopping, banking, investment, email, and social media accounts, it is easy to amass several dozen accounts. If you are a small business owner, you can probably double that number. Each account needs a unique password with combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters. And they all need to be changed every 90 days or so. That is far too many passwords to keep track of!
Don’t cheat and use passwords over and over. Do not store your passwords in your browser. Doing so may be convenient, but browsers are known to have security vulnerabilities. Check your browser preferences and make sure there are no saved passwords in there!
Look into a high-quality password manager. For about $50 per year, you will be able to generate complex and unique passwords for each of your accounts, store them in an encrypted application, share across devices and with your spouse, and have a peace of mind that your passwords are in a secure place. Another advantage of some of the password manager apps is that you can store credit card information securely and other sensitive information.
You will only need to memorize the one password that provides you access to the encrypted application.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email from what appears to be a legitimate account that I own asking me to supply personal information. But it is not a legitimate source. The hacker has recreated a company logo and an email ID that is very similar to the actual email ID of the account in question.
The hackers further deceive by creating a sense of urgency that needs your immediate action. Sometimes they are cautioning you that your account will be canceled if you don’t click on a link within the email to verify your account information. This process is called “phishing.”
The best way to avoid the phishing hack technique is to never click on such a link within the email. Always go outside the email system and login to your account through your browser and update any personal information directly on the account site. You may also call the legitimate account provider and ask if they sent you an email recently requesting any account or personal information.
There is no automated tool that I am aware of to help reduce your chances of being a phishing victim. This one you just need to be aware of and apply discernment in any email you receive asking for personal information.
There are other security actions you can take, but these are the 3 that I believe are the most impactful and should be employed regularly. The Equifax breach is not the only security breach. There were dozens of others in recent years including Anthem, eBay, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, Yahoo, Target, and Sony PlayStation, just to name a few.
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