Our response to the Equifax data breach
The news recently broke that Equifax, one of the big 3 credit bureaus, was hacked. It’s possible that 143 million people in the US (almost 60%) had their personal information stolen: birthdates, Social Security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and more.
What makes this particularly dangerous is how comprehensive the data was that the hackers (may have) stolen. As a credit reporting agency, Equifax serves as a “keeper” of consumer’s personal data.
The biggest risks are that scammers will use this data to impersonate you. Common schemes are:
- Setting up fraudulent accounts in your name, such as credit cards
- Filing fake tax returns claiming refunds to imposter bank accounts
- Using your data to reset or achieve access to existing accounts
Here’s what you can do:
The Federal Trade Commission released an information page with details and suggestions for protecting your data from being misused. Below is a combination of their suggestions with our thoughts on what clients should do:
1. Find out if your information may have been exposed.
Equifax created a special website to address the issue at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. On this site, you can read about the potential impact of the breach as well as check the potential impact on you personally.
To do so, scroll to the very bottom of the homepage and select “Potential Impact” and follow the instructions on that page. You will be required to enter your last name and last 6 digits of your Social Security number. If you information was part of the hack, you’ll receive a message that states: “we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”
Matt and Jonathan both checked the service for themselves personally, and they (and their wives) all received that unfortunate message.
2. Enroll for Equifax’ free credit monitoring services.
Because of the breach, Equifax is offering a free year-long subscription to their TrustedID Premier Service. This provides free:
- Credit file monitoring with automated alerts of changes to your credit file
- Tracking usage of your Social Security Number on suspicious websites
- $1M identity theft insurance to cover out-of-pocket expenses if your identity is stolen
- Access to your Equifax credit report
- Ability to freeze your Equifax credit report at no cost
We believe it makes sense to enroll for this service because it’s free. You will not need to give Equifax your credit card info to enroll. Also, we have confirmed that enrolling does not void your rights to take future legal action against Equifax — an issue that the company fixed after many complaints.
Prepare for delays & bugs. We have attempted to sign up, but have had trouble receiving the confirmation email. Equifax is overwhelmed at the moment and we hope they iron out the process soon.
3. Check your reports now – and 3 times per year.
It’s good practice to review your own credit reports. You are able to do so free at annualcreditreport.com from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can access a free report once per year from each, meaning you can access your credit report free up to 3 times per year.
When reviewing your report, you should be looking for accounts or activity you don’t recognize. Do the balances of the open accounts match your records? If you find something you think is fraudulent, identitytheft.gov has a guide to recovering from identity theft. Your Sound Stewardship team can help you through this process as well!
We know how hard it can be to remember maintenance steps like this, so feel free to use your quarterly meeting time with our advisors. We can get this taken care of with you in just a few minutes!
4. Consider setting a Credit Freeze on your records.
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit reports, which makes it very difficult to open new accounts or debts. This is a great idea if you don’t anticipate setting up new credit cards or loans (like a mortgage) in the near future.
You will need to work with each of the three credit bureaus to activate the freeze, and you will need to lift the freeze if future reports are needed. If interested, the FTC has an entire page on how credit freezes work.
Credit freezes will not prevent the misuse of your current accounts, so you will still need to monitor bank, credit card, investment, and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions!
Be prepared for unexpected inconveniences, since there may be other services that need access your reports (like setting up Social Security payments). But hackers will not be able to do so either.
5. Consider a Fraud Alert on your records.
A fraud alert is different than a credit freeze, in that it still allows new accounts to be open. Companies accessing your records, however, will be required to take an extra step to verify that you are the person requesting the account. For instance, a phone call may need to be placed to your mobile phone to verify a credit card application.
There are different levels of fraud alerts, but the advantage over credit freezes is that you do not need to work with all of the credit bureaus. If you set up a fraud alert at one, they will notify the other reporting agencies.
Like the credit freeze, the fraud alert does nothing for your current accounts. Monitoring your statements is still necessary.
If a credit freeze is too much, a fraud alert will at least make it harder to open accounts.
6. File taxes as early as possible.
Scammers commonly try to file taxes fraudulently claiming refunds, so beat them to the punch by filing your returns. As soon as you have the documents you need, file your federal and state taxes. We know this is often outside of your control, especially if you are waiting on third-party reports (like business income). But don’t let procrastination be the reason taxes are delayed.
7. Consider ongoing monitoring & remediation services.
The free Equifax monitoring only extends for a year, but it’s a good idea to maintain a subscription for identity monitoring and remediation services (in the event of theft). Examples of services you can check out are LifeLock or Zander.
Regardless of what happens, your advisor team at Sound Stewardship is ready to stand with you and help you stay protected. Please call us at 913-317-6000 anytime you have questions or are concerned about something you notice.
Matt Syverson, Jonathan Harrison, Joel Reimer
& the Sound Stewardship Team