Safeguarding Your Personal Data

by Travis P. Mountain
Assistant Professor and Financial and Economic Well-being Specialist
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech

As most of you are aware, last week it was announced that there was a data breach at Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies in the United States (Transunion and Experian being the other two).  Data such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers of approximately 143 million Americans were exposed.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both have timely information regarding how one may act to best safeguard themselves.

Federal Trade Commission:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

Some additional information:

Credit freeze: If you do a credit freeze you will pay $10 to enact the freeze for each credit reporting agency (although Equifax is currently waiving this fee).  In Virginia there is no fee to remove the freeze.  You will want to freeze your report at each credit reporting agency. If you go to, it will ask you several financial questions to verify you are who you say you are.  For example, they may ask from what financial institution your mortgage is from, or how much is your monthly car payment.   While these are multiple choice questions, do not guess the answer.  If you answer these questions incorrectly, you will not be able to get your credit report online.  Instead, you will need to mail in verifying information. 

Keep in mind that many people may have access to credit reports through their financial institutions – especially ones where you have a credit card.

In 2016 ~15.4 million Americans were victims of identity theft, an increase of 16% over 2015.  Precautions regarding identify theft ideally should happen all the time, not just when we hear of a major breach.