The Equifax cyber breach almost seems like an old news story but Stewart Welch assures us, the main plot is yet to unfold. On July 29th, Equifax discovered hackers had stolen critical data of 143 million Americans. Do you think you are one of the lucky ones who was not affected? Probably not. Think about it. There are just over 300 million people living in America so 143 million is about half…and the other half are children! This hack is the cyber equivalent of Hurricane Harvey or Irma the carnage may be felt for decades. Why? Because the hackers have your most important data… data that you cannot change or delete including your full name, date of birth, Social Security number and address. With this data, criminals may be able to open new credit accounts in your name without you ever knowing about it…now or anytime in the future. Here's what you should do right now:
- Find out if your personal information has likely been hacked. Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the "potential impact" tab at the bottom of the page. You will be prompted to enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. Once you have done this, the site will tell you if your information may have been affected by the breach.
- Sign up for the TrustedID 12-months free credit monitoring service offered by Equifax. The website will tell you on what date you can come back to the site and complete enrollment. You have until November 21, 2017 to sign up for this service.
- Order your three free credit reports by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. This will allow you to access your credit report from each agency - Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Look for any mistakes or credit that appears on your report that you did not open.
- Freeze your credit. Consider placing a credit freeze on your files to prevent someone from opening a new account in your name. This does not prevent someone from making charges to existing credit accounts. If you are not seeking new credit, then this is an option to prevent the possibility of new accounts being opened in your name. In order to be effective, a credit freeze must be placed with all three bureaus. Equifax will do so for free, but the other two will charge a small fee.
- Issue a Fraud Alert on your credit. If you decide against a credit freeze, then consider putting an initial fraud alert on your file. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and advises them to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is actually you. The initial fraud alert will be in place for 90 days. There is an option for an Extended Fraud Alert that will protect credit for 7 years.
- Closely monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. I've set up text alerts for my credit cards so that I get a text whenever a charge for more than $20 is made on my account. I also check my checking account transactions several times a week.
- Contact your insurance agent. Check with your Property and Casualty agent to see if your homeowner's insurance policy provides an ID Theft rider. Some policies provide this and it would be a resource to help with the process of reestablishing your identity.
- Beware of tax refund fraud. File your taxes early and be aware of any mailed correspondence from the IRS. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number to get a tax refund or job. If you receive any correspondence from the IRS, make sure you alert your CPA so they can respond appropriately to the theft.
For more information, visit www.welchgroup.com.