In 2015, the nation's second-largest health insurer, Anthem Inc., was hit with a massive data breach that compromised the personal information of nearly 80 million customers. The breach exposed customers’ names, birthdays, and Social Security numbers. Over a year following the incident, customers are still feeling the negative impacts of the cyberattack and may remain at risk for identity theft.
Since hackers gained access to customers’ confidential data, experts warn that it's still unknown when and what may be done with that information. And it could take years for the damage to surface.
Anthem took steps to help protect individuals in the aftermath by offering two years of free credit monitoring. These free services may not provide all the features that could also help protect your identity, like credit freeze or identity theft protection service.
Consumers can use a credit freeze to lock down their credit reports and prevent thieves from opening fraudulent accounts in their names. Luckily, making this move has no impact on an individual's credit score, since only credit reports are locked, rather than actual credit. This freeze simply prevents lenders from being able to access your credit reports to determine if you would be a favorable candidate for new credit—which, in turn, means that a potential fraudster wouldn't be granted access to your credit.
Who should consider a credit freeze? Experts say that anyone who suspects they were a victim of a recent security breach should weigh the benefits of a credit freeze, especially if you don't intend on applying for new credit anytime soon.
While credit freezes are generally free for victims of a recent data breach, some states may require consumers to pay a fee to each credit bureau to freeze their reports. Experts caution that a freeze should be set up with all three credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion and Equifax) in order to more thoroughly help protect your credit.
In addition to a credit freeze, it's helpful to call your banks and credit card companies following a breach to be sure your situation is on their radar, should any suspicious activity arise. Changing all of your online passwords is also a must. Of course, proactively monitoring your credit reports and bank accounts is also a smart move.
Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on Feb. 5, 2018.