It’s been almost two months since Equifax announced a data breach of personal information. Since then:
- Millions of us have taken steps to protect our credit.
- Their website was compromised (again!) redirecting to malware.
- A no-bid contract from the IRS to have Equifax provide identity verification services for taxpayers was put on hold.
Within this swirl of information, more and more questions have been asked, including: Can I apply for a new credit card after the Equifax hack?
The answer is: Yes, but you need to protect yourself.
So, if you’ve been eyeing one of the best cash back cards or the best balance transfer cards, you can still apply. In fact, research firm SSRS found that 81% of respondents said “the breach has not affected their decision to sign up for a credit card in the future.”
How to handle credit cards post-Equifax
The Equifax data breach was massive — the personal data of more than 145 million Americans may have been exposed. Hackers took information including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, and more.
However, you can still safely use existing accounts and apply for new credit cards. Here’s how you can protect yourself and your credit card information:
Make sure you’re on a secure website
Before you enter any information, make sure the website is legitimate and secure. You can do so by looking for the lock icon in the URL bar, making sure the URL has https for secure, and checking that an SSL certificate is available.
Be wary of credit card offer emails
Think twice before signing up for a credit card offer you receive via email since it may be a phishing scam. There’s a chance hackers stole your email address to encourage you to “sign up” with your personal information. Verify offers directly on the card’s secure website.
Set up two-factor authentication
Once you’ve opened a new account, set up two-factor authentication for your logins. This provides an extra layer of security beyond just a username and password. For instance, your bank may ask you to enter a unique code texted to your cellphone to login.
Sign up for alerts from your bank or card issuer
Another layer of protection is to sign up for email or text alerts warning you about potential signs of someone hijacking your financial information. Your bank or card issuer can alert you when your checking balance is low, when an ATM withdrawal is made, when a transaction exceeds a certain amount, and more.
Don’t ignore your existing accounts
While credit card fraud in the form of opening new accounts is increasing, you’re still more likely to find fraudulent charges on existing accounts. To keep existing accounts safe, update and strengthen passwords, and consider two-factor authentication and alerts for them as well.
In addition to these safeguards, you may also want to check your credit report, monitor your credit, and/or freeze your credit.
How do I check my credit report?
You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request a free copy of your credit report from one or all three of the credit bureaus once every 12 months. When reviewing your credit report, keep an eye out for any red flags — your name doesn’t match, there are inquiries from lenders you don’t recognize, there are accounts you didn’t open, and more.
How do you monitor your credit report?
As mentioned above, you can request a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. Alternatively, you can sign up for a credit monitoring service to track your credit reports and alert you if there are any significant changes.
Keep in mind that credit monitoring is reactive — if something is found, you’ll need to take steps to remove or correct it. If you’ll be applying for several cards or other finance-related items that require a credit report (such as renting an apartment, getting a car loan, or signing a mortgage), credit monitoring is a way to keep tabs on your information without freezing it.
Many credit card companies offer some form of credit monitoring. Here are a few examples:
|American Express CreditSecure®||Capital One® CreditWise®||Discover Credit Scorecard|
|Credit report alerts||✔||✔||✖|
|Free to use||✖||✔||✔|
How do I put a freeze on my credit?
The next step up from credit monitoring is to freeze your credit. A credit freeze pulls your credit report out of circulation and allows no one (including you) to view it until you unfreeze it.
While a credit freeze is an excellent protection option, it may not be the best step if you’re interested in a new credit card. When applying, the issuer needs to review your credit report. If it’s frozen, you’ll need to pay to unfreeze it, wait to be approved, and then freeze it again.
Additionally, don’t limit protections to yourself since the Equifax data breach may have also included the Social Security numbers of minors. If you think your child’s information may have been compromised, you may want to consider a credit freeze for them.
Protection is key
With nearly half of all Americans affected by the Equifax data breach, there’s a strong chance you or someone you know may have had their personal information compromised. While that’s a scary thought, it doesn’t mean you have to go off the grid just yet. It is still safe to apply for a credit card — as long as you take steps to protect your current and new accounts.
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