The recent data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, has exposed the personal information of over 143 million Americans and approximately 5 million Georgians.
Even if your information was not compromised in this particular hack, data breaches have become so prevalent these days that it is necessary to take extra precautions in order to prevent becoming a victim.
Georgia’s Attorney General, Chris Carr, is urging those affected by this event and others to take protecting your identity very seriously. For more general information on how to do this, visit www.identitytheft.ga.gov.
“When a data breach occurs, our primary concern is protecting Georgia consumers who may have been impacted,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “To guarantee the best possible outcome for our citizens, we will work with law enforcement, the company who was targeted and others to identify how the breach occurred and to exhaust all efforts to help us ensure it does not happen again.”
The first thing you should consider in the wake of the nation’s most recent data breach is freezing your credit. Please see information related to this suggestion below.
Freeze your credit. First and foremost, consumers should strongly consider freezing their credit before they are impacted by a data breach in the first place. A security freeze (also known as a “credit freeze”) locks your credit file so that no one can see your credit report or credit score unless you lift the freeze. Since the information in your credit file will not be released to anyone, it makes it nearly impossible for an identity thief to open a new credit account in your name. Note that you will need to temporarily lift the freeze (by providing a password) if you wish to apply for a new loan or credit card. To place a security freeze, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies:
Additionally, the Office of the Attorney General would like to offer the following suggestions:
- Check your credit reports. You can get free credit reports each year by going to annualcreditreport.com. Review your reports carefully. If you come across any accounts or collection items that you do not recognize, contact the credit reporting agencies to dispute the matter and get it resolved. Note that under federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Georgia residents are entitled to an additional two free credit reports per year from each of the reporting agencies.
- Monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. Check your accounts regularly for any charges you do not recognize. If you suspect fraudulent activity, contact the financial institution right away to report it and have replacement cards issued. Also, if your statement does not arrive as usual, contact the financial institution to make sure that an identity thief has not changed the address on your account.
- File your taxes early. Filing your taxes early, (as soon as you have all the information you need), is one of the best ways to protect yourself from tax identity theft. After a breach, a scammer may commit tax identity theft by using your Social Security number to file a tax return and steal your tax refund. Most victims don’t find out about the fraud until they go to file their tax returns and are informed that someone has already filed a return using their Social Security number.