Yes, news of Equifax's massive identity-theft cyber break-in is everywhere, including a big article in this paper's last Sunday edition. Furthermore, the breech couldn't have come at a worse time for all those poor folks affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. And unless we race over to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to verify our name appears on the compromised list of 143 million, we must assume that each of us and our families are victim of the thievery.
(How ironic that for years I've preached how to avoid ID theft, only to discover that one of the "Big Three" I depended upon and advocated for strict confidentiality is the "hackee" that's let me and 142, 999,000 consumers down.) As a reminder — and the reason I'm hanging on to this sickening story — is the stolen identities and personal information that are used and abused by criminals to open accounts, file tax returns, buy homes and more. (We hear your cries of desperation, hurricane victims.)
We must take care of this horror tale ourselves and as quickly as possible; otherwise, it simply could be too late.
I spent several hours at the computer and on the phone trying to protect myself for the future. Actually, I'm in better financial condition than many folks because I'm a long-time subscriber to LifeLock's identity theft protection program. Everyone knows how paranoid I am (which is why my husband endures habitual headaches from continuously rolling his eyes at me). Many of you hold LifeLock memberships and you should be hopping with glee. For those who don't, please immediately take the following steps:
-Place free fraud alerts on all three of your credit bureau accounts. Once this is in place, it will require any lender that pulls your credit reports to call you and verify verbally that you actually submitted a valid application for credit. You can create fraud alerts at any one of the three credit bureau websites. Theoretically, they share information with one another; however, to ensure a big "whew," create this alert on each site rather than depending on one to take care of the remaining two.
-Freeze your accounts. Depending upon the state in which you live, this may cost you a few dollars. By freezing your accounts, they are taken out of circulation. Literally, this means no new lender can access your reports. You must freeze each account individually, though; check this action and other information at these credit bureau websites: Equifax.com, Experian.com and Transunion.com.
-Change your passwords. Especially crucial for sites that contain sensitive information like financial, health or credit card data, do not wait until "later" to make these changes. My colleague Mary Hunt reminds us to create the strongest passwords for the most confidential sites that contain the most sensitive information. Many hackers will crawl out of the online woodwork so be prepared for any eventuality.
During my hours of protective investigation, I discovered that Equifax is offering a one-year free fraud alert service, TrustedID. Again, my motto of trust only thyself applies here as well. The TrustedID is good/free for one year only and pertains only to Equifax so it's still mandatory to keep a strict eye on the other two agencies. Moreover, because this safety net expires at the end of twelve months, be prepared for the hackers to come out of their closet and start doing what they do best: stealing. Unfortunately, in this day and time, consumers must be vigilant at all times. Pay. Constant. Attention.
Back to Lifelock (or others through your insurance companies, for example), it's not too late to prepare yourself for the next cyber-episode; believe me, it will happen. If interested in LifeLock — my personal favorite — get a 30-day free trial. And, better, should you decide to go ahead and enroll today, you're immediately protected and, wow, what peace of mind!
Contact Ellen Phillips at email@example.com.
This story was corrected Sept. 17 to correct the address of the web site to verify if you are on the compromised list of 143 million names by the credit reporting firm Equifax.