I'm frustrated and mad! I do everything I can to protect my personal information by changing passwords and keeping them secure. Then a major bank, insurance company or credit agency gets hacked! And poof, just like that all my information is in the hands of a cyber thief!

I was a victim of the most recent data breach at Equifax, one of the three main credit agencies. Chances are you may be a victim as well. This breach has created a huge headache and a lot of worry for American consumers. Here’s what happened and what you should do if your information was compromised.

The Largest Breach in History

On September 7, 2017, Equifax announced its data had been breached. This breach impacted 143 million people, including 209,000 credit card numbers and approximately 182,000 documents with personal identifying information. The company acknowledged the breach began in mid-May, but wasn't discovered until July 29. How did the thieves infiltrate Equifax's database? Evidently, there was "vulnerability" in the software. The more important question: What should you do now?

Were you a Victim?

You need to know if your information was compromised so you can take steps to minimize your risk. How can you find out? It's as easy as 1-2-3!

  1. Go to equifaxsecurity2017.com
  2. Click on "Potential Impact" at the bottom of the page. You'll be required to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
  3. Read the information in the text box that appears on your screen. It will tell you whether or not your information could have been stolen.

Even if your information wasn't compromised, you’ll still want to pay close attention to your accounts. According to Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, "Everyone should assume that their data may have been lost in this breach."

What Should You Do?

The safest course of action is to freeze your credit. That requires you to contact all three main credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) either online or by phone. Depending on your home state, there may be a $5 to $10 fee for this service. By law, Indiana residents can request a free credit freeze. Freezing your credit places restrictions on who can view your credit report. Only current lenders will have access. 

This action can help prevent a fraudster from trying to open a credit card in your name. You can unfreeze your account at any time or temporarily lift the freeze. You'll just need to provide the PIN number the credit bureau gave you when you established the freeze.

Don't Stop There!

Take these additional steps to protect your identity.

  • Change your established usernames and passwords on important financial websites such as Schwab and Fidelity. This information was undoubtedly included in the breach, making it easy for a thief to commit fraud.
  • Check your credit report to make sure no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the three main credit agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once per year. Visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit report.
  • Consider placing a "fraud alert" on your credit report with the three main credit reporting agencies. You only need to call one. That agency will notify the other two. A fraud alert requires a business to verify your identity before approving a loan or issuing a credit card, usually by contacting you. The alert will remain active for 90 days.
  • Take advantage of Equifax's complimentary one-year trial of its identity theft protection and credit-file monitoring product, TrustedID Premier. Afraid you'll get charged post-trial? No worries. It will expire after the trial period and you won’t be automatically re-enrolled or charged.

Summary

Having personal information stolen is very upsetting! Unfortunately, no matter how much effort you put into protecting yourself, sometimes it's out of your hands. If it happens to you, take steps immediately to protect yourself. The quicker you take action after a security breach like this, the better your chances of thwarting a cyber thief!

Austin Stagman is an Investment Analyst with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website at bedelfinancial.com or email Austin.