PORTLAND, Ore. -- There's a good chance your personal information is now in the hands of identity thieves, thanks to the credit reporting company Equifax.
The massive data breach affects 143 million people. That’s about 44 percent of the U.S. population.
The hackers not only got identities, they also stole addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates and driver’s license numbers. Equifax also failed to protect credit card numbers.
The question now is, what can you do to protect yourself? Experts insist, you’ve got to do it now. Start with putting a freeze on your credit. Equifax is now saying they will waive the minimal fees to freeze your credit, but that comes on the heels of their highly criticized offer to enroll you in their credit monitoring program.
Originally there was speculation that enrollment would've prevented you from suing the company or joining a class action lawsuit related to the credit breach. Equifax now says that's not the case anymore.
Fraud Protection expert Dwayne Melancon is the VP of Product at iovation. He says it’s a good idea to freeze your credit immediately.
“Regardless of whether you’re affected or not, I recommend freezing your credit report. So you can either go to each of the three credit bureaus individually, or you can go to a aggregator. There are a lot of services like Lifelock or Identity Guard that will do that work for you. They’ll work with all three credit bureaus and freeze your credit.”
Credit monitoring and fraud protection are also good ideas because in addition to all of your personal information, Equifax also failed to protect your credit card information. Melancon says keep an eye on your statements, too.
“Ask your credit card issuer to give you a new credit card number. You should also watch your credit card statements very closely because if someone were to find out who your accounts were with, and get replica cards sent to them, then they could charge in your name and you wouldn’t know until it showed up on the bil,” he said.
Identity thieves like to test your card with small purchases to see if the fraudulent transaction goes through. If it does then they charge huge amounts.
Finally, if you are affected, experts say it’s a good idea to file your income taxes early this year. As early as possible. Once identity thieves get ahold of your stolen data they will use your personal information to file an early return in your name, and get a huge refund. By the time you file your legitimate return, the IRS will inform you that someone else has already filed a tax return in your name. That scam can take months to figure out.