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How to Find Out If You Were Affected by the Equifax Hack
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How to Find Out If You Were Affected by the Equifax Hack

Kristin Wong, Gawker Media

Photo by Pixabay

There are a number of nefarious activities to watch out for when your Social Security number has been compromised. With the recent Equifax data breach, you might be wondering how to tell if a thief is using your stolen information.

First, check the potential impact at Equifax's TrustedID website . You'll have to enter the last 6-digits of your Social Security number (and your last name), and the site will tell you if there's reason to believe your information has been stolen. When the breach was first announced, they told you to check back, which was terribly frustrating, but the site will now tell you instantly how likely it is you've been hacked.

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Second, and most importantly, monitor your credit report. You can use a credit monitoring service like Equifax's TrustedID (which they're offering for free for a year), but it's probably best if you also check your credit reports regularly yourself. You're entitled to a free copy of your report from each of the three major bureaus each year (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and you can grab your copy at annualcreditreport.com .

If anyone has opened a line of credit in your name, it will show up on your report and you'll have to dispute it. If there's fraudulent activity, you should contact each of the three credit reporting agencies to dispute the inaccurate item(s). Here's the contact info for all three bureaus:

Equifax Alerts

(888) 766-0008
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division, PO Box 740256,
Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian Fraud Center

(888) 397-3742
Experian
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

Transunion   Fraud Alert

(888) 909-8872
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department,
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

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Finally, consider putting a freeze and a fraud alert on all three of your credit reports if your data has likely been stolen. Some states may impose a fee for this, but Equifax is waiving that charge right now .

It's also important to review your credit report regularly, not just right now. As CNN put it, "... it will be hard to prove that someone is taking out a loan in your name 15 years down the line is because of this. But it could happen."

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Opening a fake account is the most common thing someone will do with your Social Security number, but it's one of the least damaging things they can do. Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told Popular Science :

"With the social security number, however, we get into synthetic identity theft, in which someone can literally take over your identity and use it to steal medical goods or commit serious crimes."

Criminals could also "file false tax returns, create fake children to go with the identity, and even create problems with mortgages and home deeds," the site reports.

The FTC shares some red flag warnings of identity theft :

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can't explain.
  • You don't get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren't yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn't use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you've reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won't cover you because your medical records show a condition you don't have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don't work for.

Dixon suggests creating an account at the Social Security Administration website before anyone else does. ( Important : if you've already placed a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report(s), you won't be able to do this online and you'll have to either remove the freeze or go into your local Social Security office , according to the SSA.) This way, you can at least check your Social Security earnings to see if anything looks off. You'll need to have some information on hand, as the site will ask you about specific accounts you have open to verify your identity, and if you provide a wrong answer, you'll be locked out for 24 hours.

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Also, the FTC suggests filing your taxes as early as you can before a potential scammer can. "Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job," they explain. "Respond right away to letters from the IRS."

If you suspect someone is using your identity to open lines of credit, apply for jobs, or other activities, you'll want to file an Identity Theft Affidavit and create an Identity Theft Report with the FTC. You can file this online or by phone or mail:

1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338)

TDD (toll-free): 1-866-653-4261

600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC 20580

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