Picture: Taylor White on Flickr
By Andrea Guzmán and Ajoke Kokodoko - Digital Safety Team @ OPL
Though the adage “the best defense is prevention” still rings to be true when it comes to digital safety and privacy, there are particular situations--such as data breaches--where consumers have little control over how their data is protected. Data breaches have become so commonplace that the Federal Trade Commision even made a video called “Data Breaches and You” (watch it here). Such cases call for damage control and setting up systems to better protect your information in the future.
Today, most of us know that Equifax--a consumer credit reporting agency--was hacked last month. Sensitive data including names, addresses and social security numbers have been leaked; more than 143 million Americans have been affected by the breach.
The most important takeaway from the Equifax Breach is: assume your information has been compromised and take all the necessary steps to protect yourself from further harm.
1. Start with a Credit Freeze and Fraud Alert
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a credit freeze for all individuals who are concerned about data breaches and their personal information (this should be you). Credit freezes restrict access to credit reports which are often required by creditors in order to open new accounts. There are three major credit-reporting agencies which all have access to some or all your information, make sure to contact each of them and follow their directions.
2. Assess Any Damage — Check your Credit Report
Do you know how many accounts are currently open in your name, fraudulent or not? Thankfully, you can access your credit history with a free credit report. The only place that the FTC recommends for checking your credit history is AnnualCreditReport.com (avoid using other free credit reporting sites).
3. Report Identity Theft
If you find something fishy (warning signs here and here) while you complete the previous two steps, document it! If you find that you are a victim of identity theft, visit the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov page to report your case as soon as possible.
4. Damage Control
Damage control steps include, but are not limited to:
Writing an identity theft letter to credit bureaus (sample template here)
Filing a report with your local police department (file a report with the Oakland Police Department here); make sure to get/save a copy of anything you file and store in a safe location
Reviewing your Social Security work history by creating an account with the Social Security Administration
Close fraudulent accounts in your name (sample letter here)
We hope this information is useful to you as you navigate your next steps. If you live in the USA and have a credit history and/or credit score, we strongly recommend that you take the aforementioned steps to prevent or mitigate any damage that may come from having your identity stolen.
Active Duty Alerts. (2016, September 27). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from
Federal Trade Commission (Producer). (2016, September 21). Data breaches and you -- a new
video [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2016/09/data-breaches-and-you-new-video
City of Oakland California. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from
Credit Freeze FAQs. (2017, September 26). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from
Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes. (2017, September 26). Retrieved September 28, 2017,
How can I spot identity theft? (2017, June 01). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from
Place a Fraud Alert. (2017, September 13). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from
Gallagher, S. (2017, September 08). So, Equifax says your data was hacked—now what?
Retrieved September 29, 2017, from https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/09/so-equifax-says-your-data-was-hacked-now-what/
Warning signs of identity theft. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from