How to protect yourself from identity theft (and 2017 credit reporting data breach)

By Catherine Haug, Sept 8, 2017 ; updates: added SSN section on 9/10/17

Yesterday (Sept 7, 2017), Equifax announced it had a major credit breach affecting a vast majority of people in their database. The hackers got names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, some driver’s license numbers, and about 209,000 credit card numbers.
Your Social Security number (SSN) and date of birth allow hackers to open new accounts in your name but for their own use. Or they can use your existing accounts for their own purchases. Either way, someone eventually comes after you for payment. You could lose your money and government benefits (social security, medicare).
See the following for more information; most of the information in this post is from these sites:
Read on for information on how to protect yourself, and what to do if your SSN is used for identity theft.

How to protect yourself from security breach

It is vitally important to take steps to protect yourself.

Recommended immediate action:

  1. Check your various accounts for suspicious transactions. Check your credit and debit cards frequently.
  2. Pull credit reports from to check for new accounts in your name
  3. Check Equifax’s site to see if you have been affected. This step is easy except you have to do one of those ‘Captcha’ exercises to validate you are not a robot.
  4. Be diligent – check these daily! because often hackers wait until the news buzz has settled before using your information.
Additionally, consider the following:

Guard your social security number (SSN), especially the last 4 digits

AARP advises:

  • NEVER carry your Social Security card and Medicare card – what if your purse/wallet were stolen?
  • Make a photo-copy of these cards, with several digits blanked out – especially the last 4 of your SSN. Here’s how: Make a copy, blank our some digits, then make a copy of the marked-up version and use that copy to carry with you. Shred or burn the marked-up copy.
  • Store you original cards in a safe place like a safety deposit box or a safe.
  • Is anyone asks for your SSN, be wary of sharing it. Only a few organizations have a legal right to your SSN: your employer, banks and lenders, investment funds, the IRS, and government-funded programs such as workers’ compensation. If anyone else asks, JUST SAY NO!
  • If anyone asks for the “last 4 of your Social,” don’t give it unless the asker is one of the organizations listed in the previous bullet. Those last 4 are the riskiest to share. Why? You share the first 5 numbers (xxx-xx) with many other people because they represent when and where your card was issued; the last 4 are truly random and unique to you. Tell them to ask for a different identifier.
  • Never use the last 4 of your SSN as a PIN. Don’t share them in emails.

Put a freeze on your data with all 3 agencies

 Add a security freeze on your credit data with all three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, & Experian (see links, below). A freeze means:
  • The agencies will not share your information with anyone without your permission.;
  • even if an ID thief has your number, they cannot get loans in your name because lenders cannot do the required credit check.
Creating a freeze: You can create a freeze:
  • by mail (you can find their addresses on their websites:, and;
  • by phone; see below;
  • online; see links, below.
Links & phone numbers for setting up a security freeze:
About fees: There is a $3 fee to add a freeze unless you can prove you are a victim; there is also a $3 fee to lift a freeze (for example, if you want to take out a new loan or get a new credit card). The freeze may automatically be reapplied after the lift period (a month?), but I could not confirm this because I’ve not yet lifted a freeze.
For more about Montana law concerning fees, and filing paper forms for a freeze (instead of on-line), see:

Sign up for credit monitoring

You’ll get the best protection if you pay for a third-party service like IDShield or LifeLock, rather than the free monitoring Equifax is offering or a paid service from another credit scoring company. Note that some banks offer a monitoring service for their customers. AAA also offers Protect My ID
For more about credit monitoring services, see AAA Credit Guide: (I don’t think this is American Automobile Association or Triple A).
For more about credit monitoring services, see:
Why use a paid service when a free one is available:
  • Independent monitoring companies tend to track more sources to spot suspicious activity and alert you to it, he said, and typically also bundle in assistance to help victims handle credit problems. 
  • The terms and conditions of Equifax require users to resolve disputes through arbitration, and ban them from participating in class-action lawsuits.

What to do if your identity has been stolen:

Take the following steps:

  1. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4388 or at identity;
  2. Notify the 3 credit reporting agencies;
  3. Notify all your banks, credit unions and financial advisors;
  4. Report Medicare fraud to 800-447-8477;
  5. If you suspect crooks are going for your tax refund, call the IRS at 800-908-4490;
  6. For lost or stolen Social Security cards, call the agency at 800-772-1213 or go to

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