September 21, 2017. By Matthew Okaty:
The recent Equifax cybersecurity breach should serve as a wake-up call for everyone. With approximately 143 million consumers’ personal information exposed, the consequences of the breach are sure to be significant and felt for a long time. To protect against damage to your credit and other possible harms, it is important to realize that it is no longer going to be sufficient to simply stay vigilant – you must also be proactive. Here are a few actions that we recommend:
Everyone should get in the habit of checking their credit reports on a regular basis. You’re allowed 1 free report a year from each of the three major credit agencies (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian), and you can either request all three at once or space them out such as one every four months. There are a lot of sites out there that offer credit reports, but only one is authorized by the federal government to provide all 3 reports for free, and that is www.annualcreditreport.com. You should be checking the reports for signs of any unusual activity and to make sure that no accounts have been fraudulently opened in your name.
Consider signing up for mobile alerts with your credit/debit card issuers. They will alert you via text or email any time a purchase is made on your card so if something is unauthorized you can catch it immediately. It is easy to set up and many of the major card issuers offer this service free of charge.
Consider signing up for credit monitoring services, such as those offered by the three major credit reporting companies (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian). They offer similar services which generally include 1) a copy of your credit report; 2) credit file monitoring and automated alerts of key changes to your credit files; 3) the ability to lock your credit report to prevent access by third parties; 3) monitoring your Social Security number on the Dark Web; and 4) ID theft insurance. As a result of the breach, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring services for one year if you sign up by November 21.
File your tax return as early as possible in case someone else files a fraudulent return using your SS# trying to collect a refund. Filing your return first will ensure that the fraudulent return will be flagged for investigation by the IRS.
Additionally, you may also consider placing a freeze on all 3 of your credit reports. A freeze is essentially the highest level of protection you can have against credit fraud and completely locks down your credit report so that lenders are prevented from reviewing it (with certain exceptions). It thus limits the likelihood of a credit card getting issued to someone else in your name. However, it’s important to understand that it could delay or interfere with the timely approval of not just new loans or credit, but potentially even applications you make regarding insurance, housing, employment, license, cell phone, utilities, etc. As long as you unfreeze your reports when necessary then everything would be fine, but it could possibly take a few days and costs a small fee each time you want to freeze or unfreeze the report so you would need to plan ahead. Also, you would need to freeze/unfreeze each of the 3 reports separately (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian), although if you are applying for a new credit card or other application requiring a review of your credit report, you may be able to find out which report they will be using and so you would just need to unfreeze that one report. Ultimately it’s about security vs. convenience and will depend partly on your individual circumstances whether it makes sense for you or not.
In general, be on heightened alert and even more suspicious of emails from companies offering credit monitoring services as scammers will use this opportunity to take advantage of consumers who are concerned about identity theft.
Being proactive and following these recommendations can go a long way towards reducing your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft, or at least alert you to such fact so that you can minimize the damage before it’s too late. Please contact us if you have any questions and we are happy to further assist.