The name “Equifax” now sends shivers down our spines. The company we trusted to handle our credit scores has become a pariah of the financial world since it allowed hackers to steal vital information from 145 million American adults.
I’m one of them. You probably are too. Click here to check if your personal data was exposed in the Equifax data breach.
How much information was stolen? Let’s start with the basics: Your name, Social Security number and birthdate. That alone is a treasure trove for identity thieves. But they also may have your address and driver’s license number. These people know where you live. They can find out almost anything about you. The list of nefarious things they can do is beyond comprehension.
Here’s my best advice: Assume the worst. The hackers have your information, and Equifax can’t do anything to protect you. Law enforcement is too overwhelmed to find the culprits, and you are completely exposed.
Here’s what to do next.
Establish two-factor authentication
If you work at a modern business or organization, you’re probably familiar with this process already. Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra verification step to the login process of your most critical accounts. When a website asks for your user name and password, you may also receive a text message or an email with a special code. This is a standard practice and is considered safe.
The idea is that even though hackers may have figured out your credentials, they won't be able to access your account without the special code. Cybercriminals would have to nab your physical cellphone, which is probably protected by a passcode, as well. Using this system makes the task much too complicated, especially when many hackers are located in other countries.
Who allows 2FA?
Several websites and email providers already offer 2FA to help protect accounts. The problem is that these sites and providers don’t seem to promote these extra security measures. It’s up to users to figure it out.
Use Amazon, Google or Facebook? How about Apple or Microsoft? All offer 2FA protection, but only if you take a few minutes to set it up. Click here for the steps you need to take now to lock down your accounts.
But what about banks? Incredibly, not all banks support two-factor authentication. Given recent events, I expect this to change. In the meantime, you’ll have to check and see if your online banking permits 2FA. If it does, sign up for it right away.
You can usually set up two-factor authentication either on your online banking account page or within the bank’s official app. Here are the links to some of the more popular banks or financial institutions' two-factor authentication setup pages:
If your bank is not on the list, call or visit it.
Prevent identity theft
OK, you’ve done your best to secure your accounts and made it hard for hackers to break into your bank or email. But remember, the Equifax hack happened last spring. Cybercriminals have had plenty of time to steal your identity. So what can you do to keep them from finishing the job?
Try executing a “credit freeze,” more accurately known as a “security freeze.” The name may sound strange, almost like sabotaging your own finances, but it’s a common defensive maneuver. If you suspect someone is already pretending to be you, you can lock your credit reports so that no one can open a new account in your name.
How does this work? Lenders consult your credit score before they start a partnership with you. If lenders can’t check those scores, no new accounts can be established.
The most important thing is not to wait. Hackers move quickly, and this is their fulltime job. If they can steal your identity and bank account, they will, and as expediently as possible. Equifax made one of the biggest blunders in banking history. Now it’s up to us to clean up the mess.
How else can you protect your finances? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.