Eight Steps to Consider After Equifax
Earlier this month, Equifax became the latest corporation to succumb to a major data breach after it was revealed the credit-reporting company failed to properly secure personal information. The scale of the breach was widespread, and concerning on many fronts. You’ve likely read an article or seen a news report on the incident. In short, millions of people’s personal information, including social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, dates of birth, addresses and, in some cases, credit card numbers were compromised. This information could be used fraudulently in attempts to access accounts or establish new lines of credit.
If you’re nervous about the security of your personal information (and even if you are not), we recommend you closely watch your various investment and bank accounts for unauthorized activity. You may also wish to monitor your credit by taking advantage of the three free credit reports available to you each year (we suggest staggering them over the course of the year) to make sure that no one has opened a new line of credit in your name.
Steps You Can Take
- Determine if Your Information Was Compromised. The first step many may wish to take. Equifax, using a person’s name and the last 6 digits of their social security number, will let anyone check to see if their information was exposed by visiting this website: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.On the page, Equifax provides an explanation of what’s happened and their recommendations. For people to check their own status, they need to click “Enroll” and then “Begin Enrollment”—this will take them to a page where they can enter their information and get an immediate indication of their status. (Note that Equifax dropped the waiver language that excludes people from participating in class action lawsuits if they sign up for the free year of the identity theft protection service, TrustedID.)However, if you don’t trust Equifax and wish to avoid the company’s website, you can operate under the assumption that your information was compromised and move on to one of the other steps we’ve listed instead.
- Add a Fraud Alert to Credit Reports. You can activate fraud alerts through any of the credit-rating agencies, which are required to notify the other two. These alerts will last for 90 days, and you will be contacted if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. (Numbers for the credit reporting companies can be found below.)
- Request a Free Credit Report. Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union are the three largest credit reporting agencies. You can request a free copy of your credit report from each of these credit rating companies once a year, which will allow you to see any credit inquiries, or new lines of credit that have been initiated. Experts suggest staggering your requests for this information over the course of the year so that you can check at more regular intervals. You can retrieve your credit report from the following site, supported by the three major credit reporting agencies: www.annualcreditreport.com.Phone numbers (Innovis is a smaller, fourth agency):Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
- Freeze Credit. A freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission, but could be an inconvenience if activated. If you ever require a credit review, you will need to contact the credit rating company to temporarily lift the freeze (and budget a few days for it to happen, this is important if you are planning to buy or sell a home, finance a car, take out a loan, rent an apartment or apply for a job—essentially any transaction or event where the other party may check your credit). It is also not free; fees range from state to state. Typically the cost is $5–$10 per credit rating firm. To cover your bases, you will need to apply a freeze at all three ratings companies.
- Beware of Suspicious Emails or Phone Calls. Fraudsters engaged in email or phone “phishing” activity may try to take advantage of peoples’ fears to gain access to their personal information. If you receive a suspicious email or phone call, DO NOT click on any links or provide personal information. If it’s a phone call, find out what company the person says they are calling from, hang up and call the company directly to see if they were making a legitimate attempt to speak with you. The same advice applies for an email—pick up the phone and call the supposed sender instead of replying or clicking on any hyperlinks.
- Monitor Your Accounts for Suspicious Activity. We are confident in the protections already in place with our custodians for client accounts (Fidelity, Charles Schwab, E*Trade and Vanguard). Each has procedures to protect client assets and ensures distributions can only go to previously established bank accounts. We have advised our clients to monitor their brokerage, investment and banking accounts with third parties for fraudulent activity, and feel this is good advice for anyone, whether they are a client or not.
- Sign Up for an Identity Theft Protection Service. This is a discretionary step you can take for your own peace of mind. Equifax is offering a free year of the TrustedID service (you can register through the same enrollment process used to check your data status in step 1 above), and there are a number of other fee-based services out there (credit card companies and banks often offer them). These services are designed to help resolve any issues stemming from identity theft, and could save time and grief if you find yourself in that situation.
- File Your Taxes Early. This is a step recommended by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Tax fraud is common every year, as identity thieves, using pilfered social security numbers and other personal information, file taxes in others’ names and attempt to have the refunds sent to them instead of you. The FTC also recommends that you open and respond immediately to any letters from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, as noted in step 5, be wary of calls purporting to be from the IRS, especially if they demand payment—the IRS does not do this without first sending a bill in the mail. If you have doubts about a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, hang up and call 1-800-829-1040 (if you know or think you owe taxes) or 1-800-366-4484 (if you do not owe taxes).
Keeping Your Investments Cybersecure
This week, we’ve addressed some of the steps you can take to protect your credit following the Equifax hack. In a future issue, we’ll follow up with broad cybersecurity tips we believe all investors should review and act on periodically.
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