Equifax Data Breach
Photo credit: portal gda / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The recent Equifax cybersecurity breach, now the worst known cyberattack to date, changes everything for a huge number of Americans. Are you worried about how this affects you? You should be. The worst-case scenario of this data breach, from identity theft to adulterated finances and more, will take years to recover from. There is no silver bullet that can make any one of us un-hackable.

Here’s what you should do if you’re one of the 143 million Americans affected by the cyberattack — and even if you’re not.

To help, WhoWhatWhy has spoken to experts and come up with this easy-to-follow series of steps:

1.) Determine whether your personal information was compromised during the breach, and assess the impact:

A.) Follow this link:

B.) Consider enrolling in TrustedID Premier, Equifax’s free one-year credit monitoring services, which includes 3-Bureau credit monitoring of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit. However, please be advised that enrolling entails forfeiting your right to sue the agency, according to some accounts.

C.) Consider other third-party credit monitoring services.

D.) Alternatively you can follow this link to US federal services that provide assistance in recovery from cybertheft:

2.) Be sure to monitor all other existing credit accounts for anything that is amiss. Report suspicious transactions and activities.

3.) Change all login assets of any credit monitoring accounts, and be wary of phishing attacks.

4.) Use strong, unique passwords, and do not overshare personal information on social media.

a.) Use a password management app that includes multi-factor authentication.

5.) If your information has been compromised, freeze your credit accounts.

The reasons to protect your personal information are growing, especially in the midst of recurring security debacles and increased vulnerability of data.

Here are some preventative steps you can take to ensure that your personal and financial information remains secure for posterity:

– Use a password management application that allows you to maintain complex passwords for ALL of your online accounts without having to memorize them or writing them down. And importantly, do not download the application from a third party source.

– Activate multi-factor authentication (MFA) on EVERY account you have. MFA is an authentication method where you provide multiple evidences of your identity (entering in a number code from a text message, for example). Today all major bank accounts, social media, email services, etc., offer this. When activated it makes it very hard to hack your accounts.

– Sign up for ID theft and credit protection. And remember, everybody in your family needs this…any family member, down to your newborn baby, can suffer ID theft without even knowing it. If you have a social security number, you’re an ID theft target.

– If somebody calls you claiming to be from your bank, insurance company, mobile service or cable provider, etc., hang up, and then call the official phone number on your bill or on the company’s website to ensure you’re not being scammed. NEVER give personal information over the phone unless you’re 100% sure you know who you’re talking with.

– Never open suspicious emails. Playing it safe is better than being a hacking victim. If your friend sends you a strange looking email, text or call them to verify. Don’t open or respond to that message.

– Buy a VPN (virtual private network) app or download a free one, and use it religiously on your devices when using public wifi. Public wifi is unencrypted and offers an easy way for hackers to get into your device and break your passwords to your accounts.

– Use a dummy email address for all of your non-critical accounts and subscriptions, and when asked to give an email to use for public wifi, just make something up.

– Every month, read through your bank and credit card statements carefully. If you don’t recognize a charge, investigate it and if it’s not valid, report it immediately. And they might be small…the bad guys can rack up a huge amount of cash stealing little amounts from you every month that you might not notice. Banks and credit card companies sometimes catch these but you are responsible for your own protection.

– Use your debit cards ONLY in trusted ATMs, and use credit cards for all other purchases, especially online. Even if you have a bank that covers all debit card losses, it can take time to replenish your accounts if hackers siphon your money. And if you link your savings account to give overdraft protection to checking, they can wipe out your savings too.

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