Equifax recently announced a security breach resulting in criminals accessing information of approximately 143 million Americans. With Equifax being one of the “big-four” credit reporting agencies, this “break-in” is more incredible than the Target and IRS breach, combined.
Now would be the time to take action to protect your digital footprint if you have not done so already. Identity theft could end up being catastrophic to your financial life. In this instance “an ounce of prevention may be worth more than a pound of cure.”
Thieves have been fraudulently ‘ringing-up’ goods and services from snazzy LV handbags to major medical procedures. Getting contacted by a hospital for significant money owed on a plastic surgery bill in your own name may be one call you do not want to get.
Consider that all criminals need to impersonate you is your date of birth and Social Security number, the first which many people have right on their Face Book page. With the increase in technology and devices over the past decade has come an increase in identity theft and fraud.
In today’s “new” information age, you should be checking your credit report and score on-line (such as on annualcreditreport.com) at least twice per year to get a snapshot of your reporting data. It’s a good habit to regularly check your credit reports for errors and for accounts you don’t recognize.
Consider taking the following 5 steps to help protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.
1. Find out if you have been affected:
Visit the Equifax breach website at equifaxsecurity2017.com to determine whether you have been impacted. Keep in mind that the full impacts may not be known right now, so revisiting the site periodically may be helpful. Be on high alert for callers impersonating Equifax or phishing attempts by fraudsters impersonating Equifax via email.
2. Monitor your data:
Consider obtaining credit monitoring services. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring, whether impacted by the breach or not. Several companies offer similar services for a fee. Important note: Credit monitoring does not prevent ID theft; it simply alerts you when events occur that may impact your credit.
3. Freeze your credit:
Whether or not you have been impacted by identity theft, consider placing a “freeze” on your credit with all of the major credit reporting agencies. (Equifax, Transunion, Innovis, Experian.) Freezing your credit helps prevent criminals from opening accounts in your name but may not protect you from the majority of financial crimes that could happen to you.
4. Add Authentication
Protecting your bank, brokerage and retirement accounts may be more critical to consider than just protecting your digital footprint. Compromised data can be utilized by criminals to impersonate you by circumventing online systems and call centers for verification purposes.
Contact your banks and financial institutions and ask them to set up a “two-factor” authentication for your accounts if possible. With two-factor authentication, your financial institution will text you a special code to use every time you log on or every time you log on from an unrecognized computer.
5. Be Vigilant:
Make sure to question every business or organization up front – and ask if it is required (or optional) for you to submit your 9 digits. When surfing the web, make sure the websites you are visiting are secure and take every precaution when you input your PINs, passwords and account numbers.
Many times, thieves can get your social security number from people and organizations you personally affiliate with such as a college, sports league, synagogue, church, club, utility, cell-phone company, landlord, property manager, hospital, medical office or insurer.
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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.