Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing how to protect your identity… and for good reason! The Equifax data breach could become one of the most financially damaging events we’ve ever seen. With birth dates, social security numbers, and more in the hands of fraudsters, this breach could literally affect about 143 million victims for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, the fallout is only beginning. We still don’t know how huge this will be. That’s why it’s important to get ahead of this in any way you can.
While monitoring your credit is an important part of protecting your identity, it isn’t enough. Because of the nature of the data that was stolen, certain types of fraud are sure to be on the rise. Here are a few different scams you need to watch out for over the months and years to come.
Opening Fraudulent Accounts
The biggest and most obvious complication of the breach is that the hackers could easily use the stolen information to open fraudulent accounts in your name. With access to your birthday, address, and social security number, fraudsters have all they need to reek havoc with your identity.
Obviously, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your credit. Taking advantage of free credit monitoring tools like Credit Sesame is a good start. You’ll also want to check your credit reports frequently for errors and suspicious activity. Premium tools (like LifeLock) are also an option, while considering a full-on credit freeze is also prudent. Whatever you decide, it’s super important to be hyper vigilant right now.
Accessing Current Accounts
Again, credit monitoring is important but it can’t protect you from everything. Even a credit freeze doesn’t keep hackers from accessing accounts you already have open. Although there are some measures in place to protect your accounts (such as passwords, security codes, etc.), because of this breach, thieves may possess enough information to gain access to them.
Keep a very close eye on your bank accounts and credit card statements. At an absolute bare minimum, comb through your statements at least once a month. (We typically monitor ours several times a week.) While this is good practice under normal conditions, you should make an extra effort to stay on top of your accounts now. Doing so may help you react to any problems in a relatively short period of time.
Spear Phishing Scams
Speaking of your current accounts, it’s more important than ever to protect them from spear phishing scams. A spear phishing scam uses real data to try and trick you into downloading malicious software to your device. These emails often look official and could lead to hackers obtaining passwords to your current accounts. For example, you may receive an email from “your bank” asking you to verify a transaction by clicking a link. However, by clicking the link, you’ll download a virus or spyware that can record what you type, enabling hackers to steal your passwords.
To protect yourself from these types of scams, avoid clicking on any links to your bank or other financial accounts. Ignore the link, and verify any information by logging into your account by going directly to the bank’s home page. You may also wish to call your bank and speak to a representative, using only a number from a trusted source (like the back of your ATM or credit card).
See Also: 7 Ways to Monitor Your Credit
Filing Fraudulent Tax Returns
Here’s one that you’ll need to keep a close eye after the new year: fraudulent tax returns. Yep, with access to private information like your birthday, address, and social security number, hackers may have all they need to file a fraudulent tax return and steal your tax refund. Even though this isn’t a new scheme, it could become an even bigger problem than in years past.
To help combat this threat, be sure to file your income taxes as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more time you’ll give fraudsters to steal your refund. If you are alerted that more than one tax return has been filed under your name, you should immediately identify the IRS by using IRS Form 14039 and calling the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
If you get a phone call asking to verify sensitive personal information, beware. These types of scams have been common for some time, but may increase as thieves search for ways to take advantage of the breach… even if they don’t already have your information.
As always, you should never give out (or verify) your personal information to someone contacting you via telephone. You may be giving them information they don’t actually have. Be especially wary of somebody posing as a representative of Equifax or another credit agency. Also of note, never return calls or give information to those claiming to be the IRS. If there is a problem with your taxes, the IRS will always notify you via certified mail, not by telephone.
The Equifax data breach could literally have implications for years to come. With over 143 million people now at risk of identity theft, chances are good that you’re one of them.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to take these steps to protect your identity after the breach. While closely monitoring your credit and identity is more important than ever, remember, that’s not all you need to worry about. Be vigilant and stay alert for the scams listed above as well. Doing so could save you tons of headaches and years of financial repair.
How do you feel about the Equifax breach? Have we missed any scams to watch out for? Let us know in the comments below!