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What To Do When Your Personal Information Gets Hacked


Here's a sobering thought. There's a good chance that you are one of the 143 million U.S. consumers whose personal information was exposed after the hack of Equifax. That's one of the major credit reporting agencies. Your name, Social Security number, birth date, address - all potentially out there, leaving you open to identity theft. So are you one of them? How could that impact you, and how do you protect yourself? Here to help guide us is Lisa Gerstner. She's a contributing editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance. And she joins me now. Welcome to the program.

LISA GERSTNER: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So walk us through this. How do you find out if you've been impacted by this hack?

GERSTNER: Well, you can go to the site that Equifax has set up to get an idea of whether you may have been impacted. Honestly, at this point, I think it's probably safe for most of us to assume that our information is out there somewhere, whether it was this breach, whether it was some other breach. It's just been so rampant in the past few years that that's the premise I think people should be working from right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. I'm going to check if it's happened to me.

GERSTNER: OK. I think it's Equifax security 2017, if I'm remembering that URL properly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, hold on. Equifax security 2017. Let's see what that pops up.

GERSTNER: There's a button that says potential impact. And that's where you check your name.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's asking for my last name, which I'm putting in. It's asking for the last six digits of my Social Security, which I'm not going to say on air. And then let's see what it says. OK. Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident. So bad news for me. It's telling me to enroll in TrustedID Premier. What is that?

GERSTNER: Yes. So when you enroll in TrustedID Premier, It gives you different services to help protect against or detect identity theft. So one of them is three-bureau credit monitoring. They'll monitor your credit report from each of the three major credit agencies for any changes like a new address, new accounts. It'll help you identify if someone has tried to open accounts in your name. So it's just this package of services they're offering for free. But it's only for a year. So you have to keep that in mind - that after a year, you're still going to need to protect yourself beyond what the service offers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what if I don't want to use Equifax? Because, frankly, they were the ones that were breached. So, you know, are there other options?

GERSTNER: There are other options if you're wary of using Equifax. There are other credit-monitoring services, for example. Credit Karma is one. It's free. And they just announced they're adding more to their service. So along with monitoring your TransUnion credit report for you, they're going to start monitoring your Equifax report for free. So that covers two out of the three agencies. Now, ideally, you want to cover all three. There are paid services from companies like LifeLock and Identity Guard that offer three bureau monitoring. And the best thing you can do in terms of checking your credit reports, as well, is going to annualcreditreport.com. Every 12 months, you're entitled to a free credit report from each of those three major agencies. And you can look through them and look for any problems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've written that the strongest measure you can take is to put a freeze on your credit files. How does that work?

GERSTNER: Right. So when you put a freeze on your credit files, it blocks new creditors from seeing your credit report. And that's if someone is trying to get credit in your name. They're not going to be able to. So it at least guards you from new account fraud. Now, you still have to be on guard for fraud on your existing accounts. You need to check your credit card statements - all of these different things outside of new account fraud. But it is one area that you can really do some strong prevention on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I'm going to now spend the rest of my afternoon doing everything that you just advised. Lisa Gerstner is a contributing editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Thank you so much.

GERSTNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.