The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued some suggestions for individuals worried about the integrity of their personal and financial data after the staggering breach reported by Equifax last week. The first step is to contact the nationwide credit reporting companies and review your free credit reports from each of them, the CFPB said.
It also listed some signs of fraud or identity theft to look for, such as accounts on your credit reports that you didn’t open, incorrect personal information on your credit reports, and credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted. Other signs include wrong amounts showing on your accounts in your credit reports, money missing from your bank account, and bills that you used to get no longer being delivered to you.
Anxious individuals also can utilize free and low-cost options for additional protection from identity theft, such as a security freeze, which generally prevents new credit accounts from being opened in your name. “You can place a freeze on your credit file at any time, but you must contact each credit reporting company,” the CFPB said.
Other options include fraud alerts, which requires creditors to take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card, or increasing the credit limit on an existing account. You can request an initial fraud alert, which will remain active for 90 days. There is also an extended alert available, which is for identity theft victims and is good for seven years.
Then there are identity monitoring and credit monitoring services. “Identity monitors scan personally identifiable information in credit applications, public records, websites, and other places for any unusual activity that could be signs of identity theft,” the consumer bureau said. “If you’re offered or considering an identity monitoring or credit monitoring service, make sure you check for trial periods, fees, cancellation requirements, and other restrictions so that you don’t face unexpected fees, charges, or other limitations.”