(AP photo)

The head of this region’s Better Business Bureau says the massive data breach at Equifax has lifetime implications for anyone with a credit record, and she recommends that you take two steps to avoid future headaches. WFIR’s Evan Jones has the story.

From the Better Business Bureau of Virginia: Approximately 143 million Americans could be victims of identity theft after a massive cyber attack on Equifax, one of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies. According to a release by the company, criminals exploited an application vulnerability to gain access to certain files from mid-May through July 29. The information accessed includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 consumers.

To discover if your information has been potentially impacted, go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Before you head to Equifax’s website, make sure you are using an encrypted computer. Equifax is offering one year of free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection through TrustedID Premier.

Protect yourself moving forward with our BBB tips, which can also be found at bbb.org/breach.

Do not take a “wait and see” approach as you may have done with breaches involving credit card data. You must act quickly. Breaches involving Social Security numbers have the potential to be far more detrimental to victims, and the damage can be difficult to repair.

Consider taking a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts, but will create a roadblock for thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information. A freeze can be temporarily lifted, or completely removed, at a later date if needed. For more detailed information on credit freezes and fraud alerts, visit go.bbb.org/creditfreeze.  You can place a freeze by contacting each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:

Equifax — 800-349-9960

Experian — 888‑397‑3742

TransUnion — 888-909-8872

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports if you know your Social Security number has been compromised. While less effective than a freeze, this will provide an extra layer of protection.

Take advantage of any free credit monitoring services being offered by the company to breach victims. While this is not a preventative measure, this will alert you to new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so that you can act quickly to repair the damage.

File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer has the opportunity to file using your information. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

Regularly check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com for unauthorized charges or other signs of fraud. (NOTE: This is the only free credit report option authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.)

Scammers will take advantage of this data breach by sending out phishing emails and other messages that appear to be from Equifax, other credit bureau, or ID theft protection company. Do not click on links from any email, text or social media messages about this or any other data breach.

Get a Virginia Identity Theft Passport if you suspect your information has been compromised. The Identity Theft Passport is a card that you can carry and present to law enforcement or other individuals who may challenge you about your identity in the event that you become the victim of identity crime. The Passport is designed to serve as notification to help protect victims from unlawful detention or arrest for crimes committed by another under a stolen identity.

For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on repairing the damage caused by identity theft, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources. Additional information on identity theft in Virginia can be found at http://www.oag.state.va.us/programs-initiatives/identity-theft.