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Approximately two-thirds of all Americans were victims of the Equifax data breach in 2017, where the Social Security numbers of around 148 million people were exposed. One of those victims was Equifax’s CEO, Mark Begor — highlighting how vulnerable we all are to identity theft.
During a hearing in front of members of Congress, Begor said that over the past decade he has been an identity theft victim not just once, but three times.
Frankly, this is in itself alarming; after one incident, he could have simply frozen his credit — known as a credit freeze — something that his own company offers. This would have prevented any further cases of identity theft.
That aside, identity theft is now the #1 consumer crime in the US, with 17 million victims in 2017. And if you don’t think it could happen to you: The CEO of one of the largest credit-reporting agencies is a victim himself.
Data breaches are becoming increasingly common, too: More than 500 million people were exposed during the recent Marriott breach. The Collection #1 breach exposed almost 1 billion; more than 3 billion Yahoo accounts have been exposed, and 120 million people had their LinkedIn accounts breached.
In fact, there’s a data breach of some sort every few minutes, meaning even if you’re doing everything right, through no fault of your own, your private information could be exposed to criminals.
So, if you’re reading this right now, you should assume that your personal information has already been compromised. With so many high-profile breaches, it is practically inevitable that a hacker has at least had a look at your information on the dark web.
So what should you do?
For starters, consider freezing your credit. As of September 2018, you can freeze your credit for free through all three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.) Though this is free, only a handful of Americans have taken advantage of it. A credit freeze prevents someone from opening accounts in your name. If you plan on opening an account yourself (like buying a car or a home), you simply call up and remove the freeze ahead of time.
The sad truth is that there will be another major data breach in the near future. If you have taken the steps to protect yourself now, you will have less to worry about when it happens.
What should you do if you are a victim of identity theft?
The first thing you should do is contact the company that holds your fraudulent account and work to remove it. Then, contact the major credit reporting bureaus and place a freeze on your reports. You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and submit an identity theft affidavit and file a police report. You also want to make sure to monitor all of your credit accounts.