As you may have heard, Equifax, one of the nation’s three leading credit reporting agencies, announced last week that they had a major data breach from May through July.
The hackers accessed over 143 million consumers’ information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. For some consumers, they also stole driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers.
Due to the scope of this data breach and after reviewing the options available to protect your information, we have the following recommendations for our clients. Please also consider doing these steps for all family members, such as elderly parents and children:
1. Place a CREDIT FREEZE on your files.
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name. You can lift the freeze temporarily on your account if you are applying for credit in the future. You MUST keep track of your unique PIN/password to lift a freeze.
Please visit the FTC’s page on Credit Freezes to understand fully how CREDIT FREEZES work: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
STEPS TO TAKE:
To place a freeze on your credit reports, you need to contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
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.
Make sure you are entering this info on a secure computer and encrypted network connection (no Wi-Fi Hot Spots!).
After receiving your freeze request, each credit reporting company will send you a unique PIN (personal identification number) or password. Keep the PIN or password in a safe place. You will need it if you choose to lift the freeze.
2. If you decide against a credit freeze, place a FRAUD ALERT on your files.
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report if they take steps to verify your identity. Three types of fraud alerts are available:
Initial Fraud Alert.If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. You may want to place a fraud alert on your file if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen.
Extended Fraud Alert.For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert will protect your credit for seven years.
Active Duty Military Alert.For those in the military who want to protect their credit while deployed, this fraud alert lasts for one year.
STEPS TO TAKE:
To place a fraud alert on your credit reports, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. A fraud alert is free. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other credit reporting companies; they, in turn, will place an alert on their versions of your report.
3.Check your credit reports:
Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to get a FREE copy of your credit report each year.
If you don’t recognize an account or activity, go to www.IdentityTheft.gov for steps to take.
4.Visit Equifax’s website to see if you are “Potentially Impacted” by their breach *AND* ENROLL IN THEIR FREE ONE YEAR CREDIT MONITORING.
Visit www.EquifaxSecurity2017.com to see if your information was potentially exposed.
You will need to enter the last six digits of your Social Security number so make sure to use a secure computer and encrypted network connection when entering your info.
5. Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for any charges you don’t recognize.
It takes a few minutes a month to look over credit card and bank statements. If you do not recognize a charge, contact your credit card company or bank immediately.
For other tips on “How To Dispute Fraudulent Charges”, please visit https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/dispute-fraudulent-credit-card-charges/
For tips on How to Protect Your Credit Cards from Fraud, please visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0216-protecting-against-credit-card-fraud
6. File your taxes early, before a scammer can.
Tax identity theft happens when someone files a fraudulent tax return using your Social Security number to try to steal a “refund” from the government.
You can learn more on Tax ID Theft from the IRS’ website at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft
7 Visit www.Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
As always, we’re here to help you year-round. Please reach out to our office if you have any questions. You can email HelpDesk@schwartzaccountants.com or call us at 781.938.0045.