Equifax said Thursday that 143 million people could be affected by a recent data breach in which cybercriminals stole information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and the numbers of some driver’s licenses.
Additionally, credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes. The impact of this breach is immeasurable, and could even extend to the filing of tax returns.
Equifax has said that they will not be contacting those who were affected, leaving you to do your due diligence to protect yourself. Below are ten protective steps our team recommends taking:
Assume the Worst
Equifax is offering credit file monitoring and identity theft insurance of up to $1 million through its TrustedID Premier program for FREE for one year, whether you’ve been affected by the breach or not.
Consider a Credit Freeze or 90-Day Fraud Alert:
A credit freeze allows you to restrict access to your credit report, making it more difficult for your identity to be compromised. However, a freeze may prevent even you from opening any new credit, and a freeze will not prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
A freeze is initiated directly with each of the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and, ironically, Equifax), through the following phone numbers or websites:
- Equifax – www.equifax.com – 1.888.766.0008 or 1.866.447.7559
- Experian – www.experian.com – 1.888.397.3742
- TransUnion – www.tuc.com – 1.888.909.8872 or 1.800.680.7289
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report, but they must take additional steps and have additional information to verify your identity before attempting to open new credit. Initiating a fraud alert with just one of the credit reporting agencies will be effective for all three agencies.
Change All Passwords:
We realize that changing online passwords to all of your financial accounts and email is an onerous process at best. However, committing to this action now may avoid years of painstaking remedial actions in the event of identity theft.
Never Send Important Information by Unsecured Email:
Do not allow any advisor to send you personal or financial information unless through secure email. This is an activity prone to complacency, but email data theft and trafficking will remain at a heightened risk for the foreseeable future.
Obtain All 3 Credit Reports for Each Family Member:
This includes credit reports for your minor children, as hackers can bank this information for later use when your children attain majority. A credit report is available at AnnualCreditReport.com free of charge. Review your credit reports thoroughly and regularly for any suspicious activity.
Be on Guard for Phishing Calls, Unknown Emails or Anything Suspicious:
Avoid opening attachments or unknown links contained in emails and never give out personal information over the phone.
Check Debit and Credit Card Activity Daily:
The earlier suspicious activity is detected, the greater the opportunity to minimize damage.
Do Not Open Any Unsolicited Emails from “Equifax”
They claim they will not be sending any emails concerning the breach. Hence, an unsolicited email from Equifax is likely a scam.
File your Taxes ASAP:
With the amount of information compromised, the hackers have enough information to file a return in your name and claim your refund. Be proactive and open any written mailed communications from the IRS immediately and reach out to our team immediately if it appears any suspicious filings have occurred.
Many identity and data theft prevention services are available to supplement your own prevention efforts. A link from the Federal Trade Commission has additional steps for identity theft prevention. See https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.
Your Financial Solution Advisors, PLLC team is here to assist you in determining what measures and protective actions are appropriate for your unique situation. Please feel free to reach out to us with any concerns you may have.