Overcoming the Breach Blues
Social Security numbers of over 620,000 jurors in the Colorado Judicial System in 2017. 80 million Anthem patient and employee records in 2015. 76 million eBay customer accounts in 2014. Whether by hack or other breaches, there are regular reminders that our personal information is out there. The recent Equifax hack is the latest reminder that as modern citizens, we are all vulnerable.
It’s easy to feel that there is nothing you can do. But there are some basic steps to consider.
- Check your credit reports regularly. There is only one source to do this (annualcreditreport.com), and lots of fake sites. To be sure you are getting the right site, start at the Federal Trade Commission site and follow the links to Identity Theft information. If you are ever on a site that requests credit card information to receive your credit report, you are on the wrong site. You can also call 1-877-322-8228 to receive reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can check your credit report once annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
- You can place an initial or extended fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies listed above. This may prevent someone from opening a new account in your name. To request an initial fraud alert, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies. That agency will place the alert and also contact the other two agencies to request they do so, as well. It will last for 90 days and you must call to renew the fraud alert. This is a free service. To place an extended alert, you must provide proof that you have been a victim of identity theft. An extended fraud alert will remain in place for 7 years. Once you have placed a fraud alert, the agencies will contact you before any new credit is extended.
- You can place a credit freeze with the credit reporting agencies. This means they will not release your credit report. This should stop anyone from opening a new credit account in your name since most lenders won’t extend credit unless they pull your credit first. To do this, contact the three credit reporting agencies listed above and request this. It will remain frozen until you request it be lifted. There is a cost to lift the freeze. For those that don’t regularly need new credit, this is a good option. When the freeze is placed, you’ll have a PIN that corresponds to each credit agency. It is very important that you keep this PIN in a safe place. Without the PIN, unfreezing your credit will be a major hassle.
- Use common sense when providing your Social Security number. Whenever asked for your Social, it’s a fair question to ask whether there is any way to proceed without it. Due to the Patriot Act, it is a must to provide for any financial account, so you must provide for any bank, investment, or other financial accounts. But, there are instances where it is requested and not federally mandated to provide. It is perfectly fair to ask why it is needed, and if not mandated, to politely refuse to provide. An example would be a medical provider where you are not using your insurance. Although financial institutions like Schwab and Fidelity devote massive resources to cybersecurity to keep client data safe, your chiropractor or acupuncturist likely cannot devote such resources to safeguarding your identity. Simply providing your data only when needed reduces the potential for leaks.
- Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service, such as All Clear ID allclearid.com or Life Lock www.lifelock.com. While we wish we could tell you this is a complete solution, none of the identity protection services are flawless. We can find positive and negative reviews for all of the major providers. The reports have been mixed on Equifax’s free credit monitoring offer, as well. Several reports question whether agreeing to the free service will limit your ability to seek legal remedies other than arbitration. Others point out that the real danger may likely be in the future after the free monitoring ends and thieves have more motivation to pay for data. If you do sign up for Equifax’s free monitoring, consider it a band aid, not a long term fix. The steps above continue to be the foundation for credit security.
We expect to learn more about this issue over the coming months. Although we have yet to find a complete solution, this is one case where no action is the worst action of all.
Call or email your advisor if you’d like to visit further about options.
Julie D. Martinez – Advisor