Howdy! I’ve compiled this post in hopes it helps our clients who may be impacted by the recent Equifax security breach… I’m not a financial advisor nor an expert in all things credit. But I’ve been doing a lot of research and wanted to share with you what I’ve learned!
By now you probably have heard about the big security breach of Equifax, where some 143 million credit records were potentially stolen. And by “credit records” I mean Social Security, driver’s license and credit card numbers.
Do you know if you’re one of those “lucky” 143 million people? If not, I highly recommend you visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose, “Potential Impact” which will take you to this screen:
Click “Potential Impact” one more time. It’ll take you to this screen, where you need to fill out two simple things: your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. Note: if you’ve recently gotten married and are going by your spouses’ last name, but you’ve not filed a name change with anyone yet, you’ll want to put your maiden name.
Now, hope you DON’T get this message:
But if you do, congratulations! Your credit is at risk. Oh wait, that’s not something to be happy about. Sorry…
So… now what?
Well, you have a lot of options, including do nothing – but that’s not the option I’d recommend.
First off, Equifax is offering free enrollment in their “Trusted ID Premier.” Now, granted, a part of me is leery of trusting the guys who put me at risk to now keep me safe, but it’s SOMETHING. TransUnion and Experian offer similar programs.
By the way, as if this couldn’t get any better, scammers are also sending phishing emails trying to get information by posing as the credit bureaus wanting to help you. So make sure you double and triple check anything you get in email for its legitimacy.
Speaking of the other two bureaus, though, this is an excellent reminder to check your credit reports! Did you know you get to check them for free once a year? I knew that, but I just never actually do it. Shame, shame, right? Especially since its FREE, and it could save me a lot of heartache down the road when I want to apply for a mortgage or buy a new vehicle.
Head on over to annualcreditreport.com and request your credit reports. Now, keep in mind, I did this yesterday, and due to the volume of traffic to Equifax’s site, I could not pull that one. But I did get to review my other two credit reports.
IF YOU FIND SOMETHING… you need to take the steps to get any incorrect information removed. If you suspect Identity Theft, head over to IdentityTheft.gov. Otherwise, you’ll need to start the process of contacting the credit bureaus and having things removed. All the information how to do this is on all three credit bureau’s websites. (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) I’ve had to do this once, and it was a simple letter submitted to the credit bureau that took care of everything. I think you can do it online now, though. It’s not hard, its just time consuming. You’ll need to have patience as you go through this.
Many people I know are choosing to put a freeze on their credit.
What does this mean? Well, I’m glad you asked because I asked the SAME THING.
Directly from the FTC website:
“Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit.” https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
Important things to note: a credit freeze does not stop you from using your current lines of credit, nor does it stop thieves from stealing current credit information. So you’ll still need to monitor your current credit card statements and bank statements for fraudulent charges. Like that person who decided to try to buy $500 worth of clothes in a boutique in Florida, but luckily your card is maxed out already so they were declined but you still need to destroy your current card and get a new one. Oh wait, that was me. But you get the idea.
SO how do you freeze your credit? Well, you’ll have to contact ALL THREE credit bureaus to do so. Also from the FTC:
Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1 888 397 3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but commonly range from $5 to $10.
After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter containing a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
Keep in mind, freezing credit won’t be the answer for everyone. If you know you’re about the buy a house, need to set up utilities at a new home or apartment, or perhaps your job requires checking your credit (yeah, that happens), you may want to think twice about it. While you can thaw your credit when you need it, you could be looking at expense and time lost doing so…
If you do not freeze your credit, what else can you do?
Keep a close watch in your credit.
Many credit cards offer credit score updates and credit monitoring as part of their services. For example, Capital One offers CreditWise, Discover offers a FICO Credit Scorecard (and recently started offering credit monitoring), Bank of America and Chase also offer FICO monitoring. Many include it in their apps, so you can check your credit from your phone regularly. While this may not be as pro-active as a credit freeze, it’ll allow a faster response and resolution to any identity theft issues.
FILE YOUR TAX RETURN EARLY.
You knew we’d get to this eventually, right?
Look, we’ve dealt with many clients who have had identity theft happen. We’ve dealt with clients whose CHILDREN have had identity theft happen. This is not fun for anyone! Suddenly your tax return is being rejected. You can’t claim your dependents because someone else already did. And now you have to file a paper return, and you need special PIN numbers and… oh my goodness it’s a headache for all involved.
So that’s why we urge anyone potentially impacted by this breach to plan on filing their tax return as early as possible in 2018. The sooner you file, the less likely it is that a thief can file a fraudulent return under your name and SSN to claim a refund. It’s not a guarantee, but its worth trying.
There are countless articles coming out daily with advice on how to handle this Equifax breach. Keep on top of those articles through Google News here: https://news.google.com/news/search/section/q/equifax/equifax?hl=en&ned=us
In this modern technology-driven age we’re facing these sort of security breaches and invasions of privacy all the time. I’m certainly not an expert on all of this, but I’ve been trying to keep up with the latest and hope this post helps our clients at least have a place to start in dealing with this issue.