Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt today offered tips for consumers to reduce their risk of identity theft following last week’s announcement by Equifax of a data breach affecting some 143 million U.S consumers.
Schmidt said an investigation of the breach is underway but is likely to be a lengthy process.
“This reported breach appears to be so large, and the compromised information so sensitive, that all Kansans should take a moment to focus on steps they can take to reduce the risk of identity theft while the investigation of this breach unfolds,” Schmidt said.
Equifax, one of the country’s three main credit reporting bureaus, last week reported that information compromised between May and July of this year is believed to include names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers.
Some general tips to protect yourself after a data breach:
• Check your credit report. Monitoring your credit report can help you identify signs of potential identity theft. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to access those reports. You can pull all three at once, or you can stagger pulling your reports throughout the year.
• Place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to place an initial fraud alert, which will stay on your credit report for 90 days. The alert is free of charge and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.
• Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze essentially puts a lock on your credit so that most third parties can’t access your report. This helps protect you from unauthorized accounts being opened in your name. Identity theft victims can obtain a free “security freeze” on their credit reports but, under Kansas law, if you are not the victim of identity theft each credit bureau may charge a fee between $5-$10 for placing a freeze. You must request the credit freeze individually with each of the three credit bureaus.
• Beware of scams related to the breach. Con artists may pretend to have information about the breach or they may falsely claim to want to help you. Some calls or messages may be scams designed to steal your money or personal information. Don’t give out personal information to those who contact you unexpectedly (even if they say they want to help you) and be wary about clicking on links or downloading attachments in messages.
• Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts. Look for suspicious activity. If you find errors, immediately notify your bank or credit provider.
• When it’s tax season, consider filing early. File your taxes as soon as you have all of the information necessary to file so that there is less of a chance for someone to fraudulently file on your behalf. This is especially important if you know your information has been compromised.
More information, including how to request a security freeze, is available on the attorney general’s consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.