The Equifax data breach has been highly publicized since the news broke on September 7, 2107. In this huge breach, ranking in the top five of all time data thefts according to USA Today, the hackers stole personally identifiable information from 143 million people. The thieves took names, addresses, birthdays, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, as well as 209,000 credit card numbers.
This breach took place between mid-May through the end of July, but was just publicly announced on September 6th. As the hackers have at least a six week head start on using and selling the data, many of our clients are understandably very concerned. The information that was stolen can create a financial nightmare for anyone—bank accounts or credit cards can be opened in your name, driver’s licenses obtained, prescription medications ordered, funds in existing financial accounts pilfered, etc. The scary list of potential crimes is quite long.
However, here are some action items to protect you and your family from identity theft and financial loss:
- Determine whether you were affected by the breach by visiting the Equifax breach site. Be sure to do this at home or over a secure connection, not on a mobile device on public wifi. Even if you were not affected, it may make sense to continue and take further precautions in this age of common data breaches.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service. Equifax is offering one year of their free Trusted ID premier service to those affected by the breach, however it may be worth using an independent monitoring services such as LifeLock or Credit Karma.
- Place a fraud alert on your record. When you call one credit agency and ask for a fraud alert to be added to your record, they must share this request with the other two major agencies. If anyone tries to open a new credit account in your name, a more rigorous identity verification is imposed for 90 days. This alert is free, but expires after 90 days. It may be renewed by calling again.
- Freeze your credit. This is a very extreme step, as it blocks any credit inquiries entirely, essentially removing your record from circulation. However, for those who need to apply for car loans, home loans, switch cell phone plans, get homeowners or car insurance, get a job, etc., you will be unable to proceed until you “thaw” your credit. To freeze your credit, you must call each credit agency and request the freeze, and each credit agency may charge a fee, ranging from $5-10. To unfreeze your credit card, you may have to pay another fee, and the thaw period can be three to five business days. While freezing credit is extreme protection, it may be the easiest option to execute for older, more established individuals who have no need to change jobs, insurances, banks, or credit accounts.
- Keep an eye on bank statements for small unauthorized transactions, indicating test purchases by a thief. Watch incoming mail for recurring bills—if bills are not received, it may indicate and unauthorized address change.
- File your taxes as early as possible to avoid a fraudulent tax filing that claims your refund.
One final step of protection for Meridian clients is adding a verbal password to your investment portfolio. Contact us for more information!
If you have any other questions about how to protect you and your family, feel free to call us.