Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman is urging consumers to be aware of the steps they can take to protect their financial information and prevent identity theft in response to the report of a large-scale data breach at Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting companies. 

Equifax recently announced the breach that occurred from mid-May through July this year, affecting an estimated 143 million consumers in the U.S. Hackers gained access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, drivers’ license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers and credit card dispute documents with personal identifying information.

“The depth and breadth of the Equifax data breach is alarming,” said Rothman. “Identity thieves could use this personal financial information to open fraudulent credit card accounts or obtain loans. While Minnesota law does not allow the Commerce Department to regulate Equifax, we are advising the financial institutions we do oversee to be vigilant by taking appropriate additional measures to protect their customers’ accounts and prevent any fraudulent activity due to the Equifax breach.”

Equifax has set up a special website to assist consumers —  https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/. The company says it is also mailing notices to consumers whose credit card numbers or dispute documents were exposed. Whether or not your information was stolen, Equifax is also offering consumers one year of free credit monitoring services.

The Commerce website offers practical tips on what you can do to prevent identity theft and protect your sensitive personal information from being misused — https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/your-money/protect/. These tips include:

•Check your credit reports. Every 12 months, you can request a copy of your credit report, for free, from each of the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. Carefully review the information and immediately report any unauthorized accounts, suspicious activity or inaccuracies.

•Request a security freeze on your credit report. A freeze restricts access to your credit report, making it nearly impossible for someone to open a new account or line of credit in your name. If you are a victim of identity theft, Minnesota law allows you to place a credit freeze for free. Otherwise, there is a $5 fee. The Commerce website has a form you can use to request a freeze from the three major credit reporting agencies.

•Place a fraud alert on your credit report. If you decide against a security freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim, so they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.

•Monitor your existing credit cards and financial accounts. Immediately report any suspicious charges or activity. Be alert if your monthly bill or statement does not arrive on time. It may be a sign that someone has hijacked your account.

Commerce is here to help  If you have a question or believe you have been a victim of fraud, contact the Commerce Department’s Consumer Services Center by email at consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by phone at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602 (Greater Minnesota).