what to know about protecting yourself in the wake of the equifax breachThe Equifax breach is one of the largest in history, and it’s left 143 million people vulnerable to having their personal data possibly exposed to hackers. The company reports the breach may have started as early as May 2017 meaning three months of potential data exposure.

So what can you do, whether you think you were part of the hack or you just want to be proactive against these situations in the future?

Protect Your Online Accounts

You probably manage most of your life online, including important financial accounts, but you may be using the same password over and over again or entering your email on countless sites every day.

Both of these things can leave you very vulnerable. It’s estimated that anywhere from 31% to 65% of people use the same password across many sites, and if there is a breach on one site, cyber criminals can then have access to your accounts on other sites.

Consider using a secure password manager that will encrypt your information and provide you with a high level of safety.

Many password manager programs also provide unique email addresses automatically in sign-up fields, and then all the emails are forwarded to you, but you get that added protection.

Something else important to do regularly is keep a list of all the services that are linked to your financial accounts, such as things like Netflix or any other recurring payments. You need to make sure you’re using a password manager for each, but you should also just be aware of what’s happening with these accounts at all times.

Check Your Credit Reports and Freeze Your Credit

Checking your credit regularly is important, regardless of whether or not you think you might have been part of the Equifax hack. Some sites let you check your credit regularly for free, and the federal government also guarantees free annual credit reports each year.

You should be looking for red flags such as new accounts that weren’t opened by you, debt you don’t recognize or anything else that you’re just not familiar with. If you do spot red flags, you should contact the company’s fraud department right away.

A lot of consumers aren’t aware that they can enact something called a credit freeze as well. This means that you can prevent people from opening accounts in your name, and you can still open accounts if you need to, you’ll just have to give the company a pin. You can contact each of the credit bureaus individually to do this, and it takes only a few minutes.

Set Fraud Alerts

Finally, fraud alerts are useful to have in place at all times, because you just never know when a breach can occur.

With fraud alerts, if someone is trying to get credit using your identity the lender has to contact you first for verification. You only need to contact one of the credit agencies to do this, and then they’ll let the other two agencies know.

Fraud alerts last for 90 days, at which point you can renew them.

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