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But a freeze doesn’t protect you against every identity fraud threat arising from the Equifax data breach.
With the information that hackers got, including access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, and an unspecified number of driver’s license numbers, you need to take other steps to help lock down your finances.
Here are four important ways you can protect yourself.
Social Security Benefits
Crooks with your Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and information from your credit report can register as you at my Social Security, the government website that gives access to your benefits account.
If they set up your account before you do and you’re approaching age 62, it’s possible that they could have your benefits sent to their address without your knowledge.
With your SSN, crooks can file false income tax returns in your name, take bogus deductions, and steal the resulting refund. More than 14,000 fraudulent 2016 tax returns, with $92 million in unwarranted refunds, were detected and stopped by the Internal Revenue Service as of last March.
Though you are generally not liable for such fraud, if a criminal manages to change your tax records and receive your refund, it can take months to straighten out the mess.
How to protect yourself. The best defense is to obtain an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS, which is a code that must be filed with your legitimate return for it to be accepted. An identity thief can’t file his fraudulent return without your PIN.
But you can get a PIN only if a fraudulent return has previously been filed in your name, if the IRS determines that you’re an ID-fraud victim, or if you live in a high tax-related identity theft locale such as Washington, D.C.; Florida; or Georgia.
The IRS would not say whether those affected by the Equifax breach would qualify for a PIN.
Andrew Mattson, a tax partner at the Moss Adams tax firm in Silicon Valley, recommends that taxpayers who don’t officially qualify for a PIN request one anyway, by filing a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (PDF). “Even if the IRS says no, your account will generally be flagged for additional monitoring for suspicious…