Last month it was reported that an estimated 145.5 million people had been impacted by a data breach at the consumer reporting company Equifax. Given the size of the breach and impact, I thought it could be helpful to provide a short list of actions to consider with regards to credit monitoring and proactive data protection practices. The list below should not be considered comprehensive and as many aspects of life are subject to change.
1. Review the steps provided by the FTC in response the Equifax data breach
Below is the link to the FTC site with details on the breach and what to do. This site should be considered a primary resource.
2. Review your credit reports for accuracy
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion all make their credit reports accessible on the federal government-authorized website AnnualCreditReport.com. You can request copies of credit reports from all three bureaus at the same time, or you can space them out throughout the year by electing to take one now and see others later. It's unlikely that you'll see problems related to this most recent data breach, but reviewing your report could identify other issues or inconsistencies.
3. Review all your bank and credit card statements
The statements you receive from your financial institutions are the official way of communicating what's going on with your account. Reviewing your account statements is not only a proactive method of identifying unauthorized charges, it's the appropriate time to make sure you know what's going on in your account. Any uncertainties, discrepancies, or irregularities should be addressed at this time.
4. Consider implementing a credit freeze
Unless you intend to open new credit accounts, applying a credit freeze can be a prudent step to prevent unauthorized and potentially fraudulent new accounts. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, prevents lenders from gaining access to your credit report. As a result, they can't open new accounts, preventing identity thieves from doing so fraudulently. The hassle would be that if you want to open a new account, you would need to lift the freeze, which often results in a small fee. Below are the sites and contact numbers to implement credit freezes with the three main credit bureaus and the FTC site.
Contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
- 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.
5. Review the options available to opt-out prescreened offers for credit
Unless you plan to open new accounts, opting out of future offers can help to reduce the risk of fraudsters opening accounts. Below are details on the two methods of opting out.
To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.
To opt out permanently: You may begin the permanent Opt-Out process online at www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.
The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
6. Place a fraud alert on your credit file
A fraud alert is an additional can make it harder for thieves to open new credit accounts and is a very proactive approach to take. It will only last for 90 days but can be renewed.
7. If you feel you've been a victim of identity theft contact the Identity Theft Resource Center
The ITRC is a non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft.
8. Monitor the CFTC Scam Alert site.
Sadly, the alerts are endless and ever growing, but best to be aware. Forewarned is forearmed!
9. Review and reevaluate your passwords, regularly
When you change your password try to have at least 12- 18 characters including capital letters, lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. The space-bar character " " for some reason makes passwords harder to crack. Experts have recommended using a passphrase versus a password. And of course, never share passphrases with anyone. There are also numerous password manager services in the marketplace.
10. ID and Credit Monitoring Services
Some people would rather sign up for a service to help them through all of this. Additional monitoring and protection services are available in both free and subscription form. Some of the reputable service providers include; Life Lock, Identity Guard, and Identity Force. Keep in mind that if the service is "free", you and your data are not the
11. Register your voice at Fidelity Investments [for Fidelity clients]
Last spring, the entire staff of SDW visited Fidelity's headquarters in Boston and got to see first hand their initiatives to remain a leader in protecting your accounts and data. Thier new MyVoiceSM is a voice recognition service to help protect account access. Think of voice recognition as a verbal fingerprint. Below is a link to the Fidelity site with more details on MyVoiceSM and steps required to enroll.