Okay, so almost half of the US population was likely affected by the Equifax breach in the past several months. My sixteen year-old daughter was shocked! And, given the history of breaches (remember Target, Marshall’s, AOL, to name a few) it’s likely that almost all of our personal information is in fraudsters’ hands for use in the coming months, years and decades.
Like many of you, I immediately typed my last name and 6 digits of my social security number into the Equifax link to find out that my information was “likely compromised”. I was offered free credit monitoring if I signed up starting 9/11. Then the Washington Post reported that if you signed up for the one year of free credit monitoring through Equifax, you were agreeing to arbitration, and could not be part of a class action law suit… that’s not a great idea. Over the weekend, Equifax made it clear that the free credit monitoring for this particular situation will not be subject to arbitration, but read the fine print.
I signed up for an independent credit monitoring service while I implement next steps. We should probably be proactive now, and all do what only a few have taken the time to do in the past, which is
- permanently freeze our credit files,
- set up fraud alerts,
- check our credit report.
You can do 1. and 2. at each of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion websites, (there are charges involved).
If you freeze your credit files, anyone trying to apply for credit in your name will be stopped, because as soon as the lender looks for your credit report, it will be unavailable. You may un-freeze your files in the future if you decide to apply for additional credit.
Fraud alerts work a little differently. A new creditor would contact you for validation if someone is trying to open a new account in your name.
You may check your credit report for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Experts suggest checking each agency once a year, spreading them out every four months.
Regarding passwords, we continue to recommend changing passwords regularly and turning on dual-factor authentication where available. Password manager sites help manage your passwords and keep them safe, however, if these sites are hacked, we are back to square one.
In addition the new password wisdom includes creating long, detailed passwords that are phrases or sentences that you can easily remember. See the links below for more detail.
It’s pretty clear that checking up on our credit should become part of our normal routine. Carve time out of your busy schedules and make it a priority, it will take time.
As advisors, we must always guard against fraud. Please know that the safety of your personal information is a top priority for LJPR and your custodians.
Laurie Marshall, MBA, CFP
Senior Financial Advisor