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Robert Schneider, CFP®, RICP®

How Do I Protect My Information? Answering Your Questions On How To Protect Yourself After Equifax’s Security Breach

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In September, Equifax reported a massive data breach. Hackers accessed the personal details – including names and Social Security numbers – of more than 145 million consumers from mid-May to July. It remains unclear how the data may be used. I’ve answered FAQs about the breach and what steps you should take to monitor and protect your information now and in the future.

What information was impacted by the breach?

The information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Furthermore, criminals accessed credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers, and certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.

What is Equifax doing to help consumers after the breach?

To determine if your personal information may have been impacted, you can visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. You will need to provide your personal information, including your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security Number.

Equifax is offering one free year of credit file monitoring and identity theft protection, which includes 3-Bureau credit monitoring of your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports; copies of your Equifax credit report; the ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit report; identity theft insurance; and internet scanning for your Social Security number. You must complete the enrollment process by November 21, 2017.

What if I determine from the site that I wasn’t impacted by the Equifax breach?

The information is still helpful, and it’s always important to protect your information and take proactive steps to deter fraud and identity theft. Also, you can still enroll in the one year free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection from Equifax.

If I enroll in the credit monitoring and identity theft protection, I understand I waive my rights to sue the company in connection with this breach. Is that true?

No. Equifax clarified the terms in the agreement do not apply to this incident and you would not be waiving any rights.

There are different choices on what I should do next. What are the advantages to using a fraud alert, security freeze, or the file lock feature in the TrustedID Premier product from Equifax? May I select more than one?

You do not need to choose a single option. We recommend choosing the ones that best suit your individual situation and credit activity. Details on each options and its advantages are below.

    FRAUD ALERT

    A fraud alert, also known as a security alert, is a notification that warns creditors you may be a victim of identity theft. Think of it as a “red flag” for third parties that may consider extending you credit. Fraud alerts are free, and still allow third parties access to your credit reports. However, if there is a fraud alert on your report, creditors are encouraged to take certain steps to verify your identity before extending you credit. Once you place a fraud alert with one of the three consumer reporting agencies, it will automatically be placed with the other two agencies.

    Remember, an initial fraud alert only lasts 90 days, although you may renew them as many times as you wish.

    SECURITY FREEZE

    A security freeze prevents any potential creditors from accessing your credit file unless you lift or remove the freeze, either temporarily or permanently. With a freeze in place, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name but few, if any creditors will extend credit without having access to your credit report. Security freezes are regulated by each state and use a PIN for authentication.

    Equifax has waived the fee to add, lift or permanently remove a security freeze through January 31, 2018. However, the other consumer reporting agencies may charge to place or remove freezes. The freezes remain in place until you lift or permanently remove them. You will need to contact each consumer reporting agency to place or remove a security freeze. The contact information for each agency is:

    Equifax | 800.685.1111 | 800.525.6285

    Transunion | 888.909.8872

    Experian | 888.397.3742 | 800.493.1058

    In addition to three major consumer reporting agencies, Innovis provides data solutions for businesses including identity verification, fraud prevention, receivable management and credit information. They also provide individuals with credit reports, dispute resolution, fraud alerts, and security freezes.

    Innovis | www.innovis.comhttp://www.innovis.com/security/Freeze/index |800.540.2505

    FILE LOCK

    An Equifax credit file lock is similar to a security freeze and allows you to lock access to your Equifax credit report. Lenders cannot access your Equifax credit file to open new accounts unless you unlock your file. However, when you lock your Equifax credit file, it does not lock your credit file at the other consumer reporting agencies. The lock feature is available within the complimentary TrustedID Premier product Equifax is making available to consumers.

    You need to enroll for TrustedID Premier by Wednesday, January 31, 2017.

    Furthermore, a new service allowing consumer’s direct access to lock and unlock their Equifax credit file. The service will be available by January 31, 2018 and will be free for life. Equifax is expected to provide more details about this soon. You can follow updates and information at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

Is there anything I should do in addition to fraud alerts, monitoring or a security freeze that would help me stay ahead of ID thieves?

Yes. It is important to check your financial statements on a regular basis. You should review your statements and look for fraudulent transactions or unusual balances. You should also enroll to receive account transaction or card alerts via email or text message from your financial services provider. Online and mobile banking services help make it easy to frequently check your account activity. Immediately report any suspicious activity.

Periodically order a free copy of your credit report. The three major consumer reporting agencies must provide a free copy of your credit report each year — via a government-mandated site: www.annualcreditreport.com. You may also order a free credit report from Innovis. Take advantage of these free reports: Put a reminder on your calendar to request a copy of your report every 120 days; and report any inaccuracies or questionable entries if you spot them.

Is it possible that if I use credit monitoring, fraud alerts or have a credit freeze in place it will not stop ID thieves from fraudulently claiming a tax refund in my name with the IRS, or conducting health insurance fraud using my Social Security Number?

Yes that is the case. There are forms of identity theft that can’t be stopped by a freeze, monitoring or fraud alerts. That’s why it’s crucial to regularly review your financial statements and credit with consumer reporting agencies for any signs of unauthorized activity. You should also plan to file your taxes as soon as you have the tax information you need, before ID thieves attempt to file in your name.

Can I place a security freeze at the same time I have credit monitoring in place?

Yes, you can. However, it may not be possible to sign up for credit monitoring services while a freeze is in place. Experts recommend signing-up for the free credit monitoring first, and then placing the security freeze.

What should I do if I experience identity theft?IdentityTheft.gov and click “Get Started”. This site is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides detailed advice to help you through the recovery process, including:

  • A personal recovery plan that walks you through each step
  • Checklists to help update your plan and track your progress
  • Pre-filled letters and forms to send to credit bureaus, businesses and debt collectors
  • Reporting the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission

As always, our advisors are committed to helping answer your questions. Remember to immediately report any suspicious activity in your accounts.

 

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Views and comments expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the positions of Cleary Gull or fellow Cleary Gull associates.