First, the bad news: your information was hacked. Missouri identify theft is a serious problem, but there are ways to minimize the damage and prevent future problems.
If you have ever bought a house or a car or had a credit card, your information was most likely involved in the Equifax breach. Even if you never gave permission to Equifax to have your information, nor ever actually used a service provided by Equifax, they still have your information and were wholly careless with it.
It’s unfair, it’s annoying, and yes, it’s now on you to deal with a headache they have caused.
Now, the good news: you’re not alone. Nearly half of all Missourians, some 2.5 million of your fellow statesmen, were affected by the Equifax breach. Plus, now that you know your information has been stolen, we can prepare you for how best to protect yourself against possible credit fraud.
MISSOURI IDENTIFY THEFT PREVENTION STEPS EVERYONE SHOULD TAKE:
Pull your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com:
AnnualCreditReport.com is a website where you can pull your credit report for free once a year. It was set up in order to comply with a 2003 federal regulation that required the three major credit-reporting bureaus to annually provide consumers a free copy of their credit report.
The website will not request any credit card information or enroll you in a subscription program by accessing your reports. Instead, it will ask you a few personal questions to verify your identity (such as what lending institution your mortgage is through) and then provide you a link to see your credit reports.
The caveat here is that you can only access this information one time a year, so I would highly recommend printing the report or saving it as a PDF.
Once you have the report you can review the information to ensure it is accurate. You check for incorrect personal information, credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted, missing money or wrong amounts related to your credit, and you should closely look at each account to confirm that you, in fact, opened them. If you see anything on your report that you did not open, then you are likely the victim of identity theft and you should immediately contact an attorney to discuss your options.
The next step I recommend is that you enroll in a free online credit monitoring service. There are several available for your use, however, these are for-profit entities, so be careful that you don’t mistake an advertisement for services offered by the site or sign up for additional services that will charge you monthly fees.
The credit monitoring site will provide you with real-time information concerning your credit including your credit score and what, if any, factors are bolstering or weighing it down.
Finally, it will provide you an email alert if an account is opened in your name. This is invaluable information to have, as the sooner you learn about potential identity theft, the sooner you can mitigate its potential damages.
File your taxes early:
One of the major concerns from this data breach is the potential spike in tax return fraud. The breach leaked personal identification information including names, social security numbers, birthdays, addresses, and driver’s license numbers, meaning criminals with access to the leaked information may attempt to fraudulently complete a 1040 on your behalf and reroute the tax refund into a bank account they control. You will have no idea this occurred until you go to file your taxes and are unable to do so because someone else has already filed in your name.
The best way to safeguard yourself against this type of fraud is to file your taxes as soon as possible before anyone else can do so using your information.
MORE ADVANCED STEPS IN MISSOURI IDENTITY THEFT PREVENTION:
If you are still worried about your credit, there are more advanced steps you can take to help safeguard your identity.
Freeze Your Credit:
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley suggests that placing a credit freeze on your files is something each at-risk party should strongly consider. Each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus permits you to freeze your credit, which will stop anyone, including you, from opening any new accounts under your name. This freeze will not affect any of your current credit accounts, nor will it stop a debt collection agency collecting on behalf of a current or former creditor. It will only stop new accounts from appearing on your credit.
For people that don’t intend to buy anything with financing (a car, house, etc.) in the short term, this provides an additional level of security for a low cost. In Missouri, it costs $5 per reporting agency to freeze your credit (or $15 total to freeze Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and you can lift the freeze at any time by simply calling and requesting your credit be unfrozen for no fee.
You can place a freeze on your credit by calling the credit reporting agency at the numbers listed below:
Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
IMPORTANT– When you call to freeze your credit you will be provided with a confidential Personal Identification Number (PIN). Do not lose this number as you will be unable to un-freeze your credit without it.
Enroll in an Identity Theft Protection Service:
No identity theft protection service, despite whatever promises they make, can guarantee absolute safety from identity theft. Instead, these services act as an insurance policy to protect you against any losses you suffer from identity theft.
For a monthly or annual fee, the service will monitor your credit and identify any potential risks or fraudulent activity. Should you become a victim, they will provide you with assistance in correcting and removing the issue. Some will also reimburse you for any expenses associated with the theft.
VICTIM OF IDENTIFY THEFT?
The most important thing you can do is to be vigilant about your credit. Whether you know it or not, it is likely that your personal information was already compromised well before this breach; it’s just the reality we face in our digital world. While there is little you can do to stop identity theft from happening, you can greatly minimize the damage by closely watching your credit and taking action immediately when something suspicious occurs.
If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, The Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline is available to assist consumers in reporting it (800-392-8222) but you should also immediately contact our office to ensure that you are protected to the fullest extent that federal and Missouri law will allow.