4 Proactive Steps You Can Take Now
While the media has rightfully focused on the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on Houston and much of Florida, the other important story of the past week is that Equifax suffered a significant data breach from May to July of this year that compromised the personal information of over 140 million Americans, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and even some drivers license numbers.
This may be one of the most serious data breaches we have seen simply because of the nature of the sensitive data that has been exposed.
Equifax exacerbated the problem by sending potentially affected consumers to a proprietary website that initially forced visitors to waive their right to join a class action lawsuit. While Equifax has now removed that language, there have also been reports that the website has been unreliable at best.
Unfortunately, cyber-crime is a reality we all face and it will continue to be a threat to consumers in our digital-driven world.
So, what should you do in response to the Equifax hack? The most conservative thing to do for now is to assume that your information was compromised until you find out otherwise.
Here are some proactive steps you can take:
- Get a free credit report – Federal law guarantees you one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (including Equifax). You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com, which is a federally mandated website, to get your most recent credit report and check it for any malicious activity.
- Set a fraud alert – You can always sign up for a free, 90-day fraud alert which makes it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. Once you place the fraud alert with one of the three bureaus, they will automatically tell the other two companies. The FTC has also put together a helpful guide on how to place a fraud alert.
- Freeze your credit – While this is the most drastic step you can take, credit freezes make it harder for criminals to open things like credit cards or bank accounts in your name. If you are planning on opening any new lines of credit or need to have a credit report run for work, you may want to wait until that is completed before freezing your credit. You’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus and you will likely be charged $5 – $10 per bureau. You can find more details on credit freezes at this FTC Credit Freeze FAQ, including the contact info for each of the three bureaus, how to lift a freeze, and some other important considerations on how to carefully navigate this process.
- Consider an identity theft protection service (such as LifeLock, Identity Force, Identity Guard and others) – Identity theft protection services are designed to detect and alert you to a wide range of threats. If you do become a victim of identity theft your provider will work with you to restore your identity, and in some instances if you have funds stolen as part of identity theft, they may replace the funds, based on the plan you select. Some stolen funds reimbursement plans cover up to a loss of 1 million dollars.
You should also be vigilant about checking your financial statements and remain suspicious of email announcements that may be phishing attempts, even if they seem like they come from Equifax or other seemingly legitimate sources. If you find suspicious information on your credit report or believe you have been a victim of identity theft, you can take the steps mentioned on the FTC’s identity theft website.
As a firm, Cassaday & Company, Inc. remains committed to protecting personal information and will continue vigilance against ever-changing threats. If you have questions or concerns related to this incident or your financial accounts, you should contact your financial advisor.
For more tips on protecting yourself against identity theft in general, see here.