15 Sep Protect Your Identity! What You Can Do Now About Equifax Data Breach
The recent Equifax data breach makes it clear you should consider the spectrum of actions you can take to protect your financial information. Even if you weren’t among the half of Americans impacted, assume that your information has been or will be exposed. Social Security numbers, names, addresses, and dates of birth were stolen in the Equifax breach. To check if you were impacted, go to Equifax’s TrustedID website. In our commitment to caring for and helping protect our clients, we have summarized here best practices and recommended steps.
Step 1 – Get Your Credit Report
The first action is to request and review your annual credit report. This is a wise step to take each year for all family members (even minors!) anyway. If you are not doing this, add it to your annual list of to dos, right up there with spring cleaning! Reviewing your kids’ reports with them also creates an opportunity to talk about the importance of maintaining good credit and how to keep personal financial information safe. Go to annualcreditreport.com to get these free credit reports. Review to make sure everything looks legitimate. If you find something odd, call the company listed on the report to investigate. You can get your report after freezing your credit, but it won’t be instantaneous.
Step 2 – Monitor Your Accounts
It’s important to monitor your bank, brokerage, and credit card transactions now and on a regular basis. Banks and credit card companies will act swiftly once you notify them of any transactions that are not yours. In addition, Schwab and Fidelity monitor your transactions and may contact you independently to confirm larger outgoing wires or transfers. Both Schwab and Fidelity will reimburse you if there is any unauthorized activity, but there are some caveats so check Schwab’s policy and Fidelity’s policy.
There are tools and applications that help you track your accounts relatively easily which we would be happy to discuss with you. The drawback is this creates another avenue for hackers to potentially get your information so you should balance the ease of access with the risk.
You can also contact one of the credit bureaus to sign up for a fraud alert (they are required to notify the other agencies) if you don’t pursue more formal identity theft protection. The Federal Trade Commission has instructions on how to place a fraud alert here.
Step 3 – Identity Theft Protection
Consider signing up for identity theft protection, such as Lifelock and choose the most comprehensive option ($30/month). Some credit cards include identity theft protection as a benefit for using their card – worth inquiring about instead of paying for additional services.
Step 4 –Place a Security “Freeze” on your Credit Files
Identity theft experts recommend that Americans should place a security “freeze” on their credit files. However, if you are planning on opening any new accounts (bank, brokerage, credit card, home equity line, etc.), do this before freezing your credit. To reduce your risk in a meaningful way, you should freeze your credit at all five credit bureaus. With the information in the breach, criminals could potentially open new credit and bank accounts in your name, resulting in a major ordeal to fix.
The steps to freezing your credit are straightforward. It takes about 30 minutes and have modest fees attached. You can click on the links below, input your information, pay (some are free), and you’ll receive or pick a PIN that can be used to unfreeze your credit in the future. Store your PIN numbers in a secure location and don’t lose them! If lost, you’ll have to go through a tedious process to unfreeze your credit. Please note that all the bureaus are experiencing high volumes so it may take longer than normal to accomplish (perhaps do late at night).
Be sure to include Chexsystems to ensure nobody opens a bank account in your name as it is possible someone could deposit fraudulent checks in a new bank account. Do not choose anything less than a security freeze. Some have options that sound similar but have less hassle. These are not enough.
Consequences of Freezing Credit
Your credit is used more than you realize. For example, business with cable companies, insurance companies, cell phone carriers, landlords, potential employers, credit cards, new bank accounts, auto loans or leases, mortgages, etc. usually involve a credit check. In this new world, you’ll need to ask them which credit bureau they use. Then, go to that credit bureau and either 1) get a one-time PIN that you can give to the company doing the credit check or 2) tell the bureau to temporarily unfreeze your credit (also known as a lift). Option 1 is preferable. If you have your PIN, it will be easy, if an added hassle. In most cases this should be immediate but it could take up to three days. Fortunately, freezing credit will not hurt your credit score and you’ll be able to use your existing credit and services tied to credit the same as before the freeze. Keep in mind that unfreezing credit can result in additional charges.
Other Measures to Protect Yourself
Now is also the time to upgrade your passwords and select multi-factor authentication (see explanation below) whenever available. Passwords should be at least twelve characters long, different for each site, and changed regularly. There are electronic password managers you can use to make this easier. Also, do not send account statements, Social Security numbers, account numbers, etc. via email. Instead, upload them to a secure portal. At Highland, we have this option available and it is in each of our signature lines.
Most insurance companies include identity theft loss of coverage on homeowner’s policies. It is often included or offered at no additional cost. Although most credit card companies and banks will remove the burden of fraud from you if you catch it early and take quick action to notify their fraud department, coverage on your insurance policy can help cover any shortfall. We suggest you contact your insurance company to ask about your coverage and ability to include in your policy.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is how a website uses multiple factors to verify you as their account holder. Sites like Schwab and Fidelity use a token system (this can be a key fob, or an app on your phone which is way better) whereby you must enter a generated numeric code after entering your username and password. Other forms of authentication can include PIN numbers and challenge question/answer combinations. To place on your Schwab or Fidelity accounts:
- Schwab: Contact Schwab Alliance at 800.515.2157 and let them know you’d like to add multi-
factor authentication (MFA) to your login. They will walk you through the steps.
- Fidelity: Contact them at 800.343.3548. You can also find additional details at:
You should also consider this for email accounts and any online accounts that store your personal information.
What About Your Children’s Credit?
You may want to freeze your children’s credit as well. If under 16, they probably don’t have a credit file. Rules regarding this vary by state law. At a minimum, run a credit report on their Social Security number at annualcreditreport.com.
The link below leads to the Washington State attorney general’s input and has just about everything you need to know regarding freezing children’s credit. In general, you can freeze your child’s credit until they are 18. Then, they will need to deal with the credit bureaus themselves.
The additional links below provide more resources that may be of interest. Be forewarned, freezing your children’s credit will be a slower process as you’ll need to fax or mail copies of your driver’s license, their Social Security card, birth certificate and a signed letter telling them why you want to freeze their credit.
Contains links to the rules at each bureau: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/Solutions/sn-41.html
Good article on the subject: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2016/01/the-lowdown- on-freezing- your-kids-credit/
FTC link: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0040-child- identity-theft
Unfortunately, all the actions listed are something you must do on your own. During the process, you will be asked questions that only you will know the answer to and it’s also important that nobody have your PIN other than you. If married, both spouses will need to go through the various steps. If you need to do this for someone that you have a Power of Attorney for, you’ll have to do all this through the mail, and provide the relevant documentation.
Will doing all this protect you from identity fraud?
No, but it will dramatically reduce the risk. For example, someone could file a fake tax return if they have some of your basic information in order to claim a tax refund, or steal your credit card or debit card number and use it until fraud is spotted, so you should remain vigilant. Freezing should stop crooks from opening new accounts and obtaining credit in your name.