How to Avoid Identity Theft after the Massive Equifax Data Breach

Can you guess the world's fastest growing cyber-crime?

Each year nearly 15 million Americans have their identities stolen or used fraudulently in one form or another and in 2014, more than 17 million people were the victims of identity theft. In all, losses soar into the billions.

Identity theft is a serious issue which should be handled with the utmost importance. In the wake of the 2017 Equifax data breach—which endangered millions of Americans—it is critical you are aware of how to keep your identity and personal information protected.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the preventative steps you can take against identity theft, and what you should do if you believe your personal information has been stolen. We’ll also touch upon identity theft protection services and whether you might need one. We aim to equip you with the knowledge and resources needed to keep you and your family safe.

The Equifax Breach: How Millions of Americans Personal Details were Hacked

On September 7, Equifax, one of the nation’s three largest credit bureaus, said a data breach at the company may hay have affected a reported 143 million US-based users this year. Nearly half of the American population may have been victims of a hack as credit card numbers, birthdates, addresses, and Social Security numbers were accessed.

It is believed that hackers exploited a potential vulnerability in Equifax’s website to gain unauthorized access to the private data of millions of Americans. Armed with such personal information, criminals can open financial accounts, apply for credit cards, get medical care, and even apply for a job all in your name.

Equifax states it’s working with law enforcement and an independent cybersecurity firm to investigate the massive data breach and work toward assisting the millions of possible victims of identity theft.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it is nearly impossible to verify whether you’ve been impacted, as many people have reported on the shady nature of the dedicated website Equifax set up to help possible victims. Some even call it a phishing website.

Regardless of whether you believe your identity has been stolen—or may be in danger of being stolen—it’s a solid idea to take measures to keep yourself protected.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when a criminal steals numbers, documents or online data that contains private identifying information. Usually, this information is used to open credit accounts, open lines of customer credit, or commit other crimes under your identity.

At the first sign of suspicious activity, some companies will send you an identity fraud alert and allow you to issue a credit freeze which disallows lenders from accessing your credit until the issue is further explored.

A credit freeze also stops an identity thief from opening accounts under your FICO score. Enrolling with a competent identity protection service can significantly mitigate damage in the event a customer credit account is stolen. What's more, many of the best-rated identity companies offer additional services to even improve your current economic standing.

The Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information page has a variety of resources regarding identity theft. This Federal Trade Commission page contains information on recovering from identity theft, handling a data breach, and protecting your identity. There, you can also find free resources on how to prevent identity theft, as well as resources for law enforcement, businesses, and attorneys and advocates.

Do You Need Identity Theft Protection?

If you've never had issues with identity theft, or if you've never had errors on your credit report, you might feel it's unnecessary to sign up for identity theft protection. But given how identity theft affects millions each year, you can't afford to take chances with your credit history.

We need to safeguard our credit and identity by any means necessary. Even if you don't have immediate plans to buy a house or a car, you never know when you'll need to apply for financing. And if you don't monitor your credit, there could be information on your reports that prevents qualifying for a loan.

Thieves know how to get hold of information to steal your identity. In fact, many things you do on a daily basis can compromise your personal information. This includes shopping online, carrying sensitive information in your wallet, using public Wi-Fi, receiving mail in an unlocked box, or visiting an ATM.

Identity theft protection is an affordable, hassle-free way to keep tabs on your credit. Signing up doesn't mean you're obsessed with your credit. Instead, you're acknowledging that identity theft can happen to anyone, and you're hoping to be one less victim. Here's a look at three reasons to sign up for protection.

Receive Fraud Alerts

Sign up for a credit monitor service and you'll receive alerts whenever a company checks your credit, a new account opens in your name, or other, new activity appears on your reports. Even if you diligently check your credit reports each year, a credit monitoring service protects your credit in-between these routine checks. Notifications arrive via email, at which time you can determine whether it's an authorized activity. If not, file a dispute and begin an investigation.

Gain Access to Your Credit Report and Score

Identity theft protection also gives you free access to your credit reports. You can check your credit history for accuracy, and see what creditors are saying about you. You might receive a free credit report every month, quarter or year, depending on the service and your package.

You'll Save Money in the Long Run

Some victims of identity theft lose less than $100, whereas others are cheated out of tens of thousands. But regardless of whether an identity thief walks away with a little or a lot, no one want's to be a victim. According to Identity Guard, "$4,841 is the average amount stolen from an identity theft victim." There's a monthly subscription fee for credit monitoring, which might be as low as $9.99/month. It's a small price to pay for reliable protection. And if truth be told, you might save a ton in the long run by simply having this service.

Identity theft protection safeguards your FICO score, and with a higher credit rating, you can score lower interest rates on loans. Additionally, identity theft protection service providers give customers up to $1 million of the best identity theft insurance for related expenses, such as lost wages, travel expenses, legal costs, etc. However, you will want long-term care, so be sure to renew your subscription as often as possible. Long-term care ensures that your information and finances remain safe.

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