SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Equifax recently announced a data breach that might have compromised the private information of millions of people.
To be exact, 143 million Americans could be at risk for having their birth dates, addresses, and Social Security numbers exposed.
Equifax is one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. The two others are TransUnion and Experian. Equifax keeps track of financial information in order to gauge how much of a risk customers are for borrowing money.
There are, however, steps that consumers can take to protect their private information, according to Justin Dion, a law professor at Western New England University.
“One of the real harms of this is the data is out there,” Dion told 22News. “We don’t know when it’s going to be used. There may be thieves looking to use that data now or it may not get used for ten or fifteen years.”
He added that once your data is exposed, there is no sure way to tell when a schemer plans on using your information. He said that some consumers might notice suspicious activity right away, and others might not for years.
“You’ve got to check your bank statements. You’ve got to check your credit card statements. Any unusual activity, you need to take action,” Dion said.
You can also put a freeze on your credit reports, so that schemers cannot access any information. Dion adds, however, that freezes often come with fees.
Milagros Johnson of the Springfield Mayor’s Office of Consumer Information told 22News that victims of credit schemes should place fraud alerts on their accounts to be made aware of suspicious activity.
She also advises documenting conversations that seems fraudulent and checking the authenticity of any mail received requesting personal information.