By Joe Delaney
There is a lot of information buzzing around in the wake of the cybersecurity breach of credit reporting agency Equifax, which put virtually all Americans’ personal and financial information at risk of theft. We want you to know what the consensus is in the financial services industry about the seriousness of this breach and what action you need to take.
THIS IS A BIG DEAL
As The Atlantic reportedon September 7th, just after the company’s announcement that the breach had been ongoing since May and was discovered on July 29th, 143 million U.S. consumers were affected. As there are only about 125 million households in the U.S., the scope and sensitivity of the information is unprecedented.
We’ve all been hearing about the importance of protecting ourselves from identity theft for years, even decades. It may seem to some like this is just another data hack and all we need to do is not give our Social Security numbers out to strangers and we’ll be fine. On the contrary, we must take this seriously, and we musttake action.
TAKE THESE 5 ACTION STEPS NOW
1. Check the Equifax website to see if your information was breached.
Go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.comand click on “Potential Impact.” Simply enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number as instructed. If notified that you may have been impacted, take the recommendations below much more seriously. If not, stay vigilant and strongly consider them.
2. Sign up for the free Trust ID service.
Equifax is offering this free of charge. You will be asked if you’d like to enroll if, after going through the above process, the determination is that you were potentially impacted. Once you enter your name, the site will give you a date to return to the site to enroll. Note that the deadline to enroll is November 21st, 2017.
3. Place a freeze on your credit file with all three credit monitoring agencies.
The following links will take you to each agency’s credit freeze sites: Equifax, Experianand TransUnion. This action makes it impossible for creditors to access your credit file without taking additional steps to verify that the person requesting credit (a new credit card, vehicle loan, personal loan, etc.) is you. Note that you will need to “thaw” your credit file (temporarily remove the freeze) when applying for new credit.
4. Take steps to protect your Social Security benefits.
As Boston University professor of economics Laurence Kotlikoff wrote for Forbes, the breach has made it easier than ever for thieves to steal your Social Security benefits. Kotlikoff recommends immediately printing out and preserving your Social Security earnings record to help prove the real you has the earliest records if you were ever the victim of identity fraud.
As an additional precaution, enable two-factor authenticationon your “My Social Security” account. From then on, you will need not only a user name and password, but must enter a unique passcode sent to you by text message or email as well. This makes it far more difficult for identity thieves to access your account.
5. Be vigilant.
Sadly, it seems we are entering a new phase of identity uncertainty in a digital world. Be aware of your credit surroundings just like you are aware of your surroundings when walking to your car late at night. The Equifax breach, while huge, will not be the last. You are your best defense against fraud. We have previously published a list of stepsyou can take to prevent identity theft that continue to be applicable and are more important now than ever. Again, add enabling two-factor authentication to the list on all your online accounts that offer it.
WE ARE HERE TO HELP
Some of this can get pretty complicated, especially if you are not particularly internet-savvy. If you are unsure how to follow through on these action steps, we urge you to set up an appointment with us so we can walk you through them.
Take action. When you do, there will be no reason to fear becoming a victim of identity theft.
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The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the Lifeguard Wealth. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.