Steps you can take now to protect yourself

As you are probably aware, 143 million Americans had their credit report stolen by hackers who infiltrated Equifax, one of the three credit reporting agencies. I think it is wise for you and me to assume that our personal information was among the stolen data.

If you have never looked at your credit report, you are not alone. If that is the case, now is certainly the time to do so. At a minimum, take advantage of the once a year free credit report. You need to know that your report contains the most intimate details of your financial life. The Equifax hackers likely stole social security numbers, birth dates, current and prior addresses, perhaps driver’s license numbers, and even nicknames.

In short, the stolen information is enough to impersonate you. I regard that as the chief risk from this attack. The hackers themselves are likely to sell your data to other criminals who want to do just that.  The criminals can then open new accounts in your name, obtain a driver’s license, or worse.

There are steps that we believe you should consider taking now.

1) Freeze your credit with all three credit reporting agencies:

Equifax                866-349-5191                 www.equifax.com

Experian              888-397-3742               www.experian.com

TransUnion        888-909-8872               www.transunion.com

Each of them has a slightly different process for implementing the freeze, and you must do it with all three. The downside to a freeze is that you will need to have the freeze lifted if you apply for new credit.  Keep in mind that it may take a few days for a request to lift the freeze to become effective.  There may be nominal fees associated with this service, usually $5-$10 each time you put it on or have it lifted.

2) Put fraud alerts on your credit bureau accounts.

This can usually be done directly with one of the reporting agencies, and I have been told by an Experian rep that putting it on one bureau will spread it to all three.  It is free but is only good for 90 days before it has to be renewed.  The fraud alert works differently than the freeze or other monitoring services. The credit bureau will notify the credit issuer that a fraud alert exists. It is up to the creditor to take further action.

3) Utilize a membership Credit Check & ID monitoring service.

Equifax is offering their service for free for a limited period due to this breach. Originally, they required customers to waive legal rights to sue, but that has since been lifted. Experian and TransUnion have similar services.  The downside to credit monitoring, in my opinion, is that it reports an incident after-the-fact. Granted, the more robust services offer near-immediate alerts, but it is still after-the-fact notification.  It is also not inexpensive to have all three bureaus monitored on a daily basis.  Your financial institution may offer such a service on a discounted basis. It is worth checking with your bank.

4) Utilize a spending planner / monitor that provides alerts.

Downloading into Quicken or Mint.com and reviewing transactions frequently can also help you detect anomalies in existing accounts.  For those who are using the spending module of the D. Scott Neal, Inc. website, alerts can be set to monitor large expenditures. The amount that constitutes “large” is user defined.

Like credit and ID monitoring, these are also after-the-fact and require considerable attention and fast action when something shows up.

Even if this breach of Equifax never results in your data being used fraudulently, it is a wake up call for all of us to be on alert. Cybersecurity should become a very high priority for all of us. I will publish more about how to hack-proof your life in future editions of the blog. Meanwhile, scroll down and leave a comment or question.

September 11, 2017