According to the Federal Trade Commission, "If you have a credit report, there's a good chance that you're one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax." Equifax has disclosed that the breach lasted from mid-May through July. Hackers were able to access Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases driver's license numbers. Credit card information was also stolen for only (relatively speaking) 209,000 people.
Okay, so now what?
1. First check to see if you were impacted here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/
2. Check your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report annually from all three major reporting agencies. You can do this here: http://www.annualcreditreport.com
3. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for one year through a service called TrustID. The monitoring covers all three credit agencies. Just be aware, I believe there is language in the agreement that says when you enroll, you might be waiving your right to participate in a class action lawsuit against Equifax. However, it's possible that you've already waived that right in the past by using Equifax. Either way, if you are uncomfortable using TrustID, there are a number of other companies that will monitor your credit reports, for a fee. I highly recommend using a credit monitoring service no matter what. This way you'll know if a new account or loan has been opened in your name. Here is the link to enroll in the TrustID program by Equifax: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/enroll/
4. For the most protection possible, consider a Credit Freeze. This is a more drastic measure and there is certainly some legwork involved in setting this up and administering it because you must go through each reporting agency - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to sign up and pay a small fee to each. They will issue you a PIN number. You will need this PIN number whenever you need to unlock your credit files to apply for a new loan, credit card, utility company, new cellular service provider, etc. So, it's extremely important that you do not lose your PINs. By freezing your credit you will be preventing a thief from opening new accounts, at new companies, in your name.
5. Put a fraud alert on your files. This will warn creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft. This should prompt the creditor to verify the identity of anyone seeking credit in your name. This is a much less involved process than a Credit Freeze, and while not offering as much protection, some might find it a better fit for them.
6. For more information on both credit freezes and fraud alerts see the FTC's page https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs#difference
7. Be very careful about responding to emails or clicking on links emailed to you regarding this Breach. This is also a huge opportunity for other hackers to play on your fears and send you fake emails designed to collect your personal data or to install a virus on your computer.
These steps will help limit your identity theft risk; however, with your data exposed there are still other ways thieves can strike. For example, if they have your credit card number, they can use it until the fraud is caught. Or they could file a fake tax return in your name to try to claim a large refund. Discuss with you tax preparer the possibility of filing as early as possible to limit this risk.
Unfortunately, this was not the first security breach and it won't be the last. This is the world we live in now and it comes with added responsibilities to keep our accounts and our creditworthiness safe.
As always, should you have any additional questions or concerns as to how this affects you personally, feel free to contact me directly.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Breakwater Financial, LLC unless a client service agreement is in place.
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