At this point, most people have likely heard about Equifax, one of the major credit bureaus, falling victim to a massive hacking attack that was disclosed late last week to the public (weeks after the breach). This breach of their systems (and public trust) affected an estimated 143 million people, myself included. The hackers now have an estimated 143 million social security numbers, dates of birth, and other data; including an estimated 200,000 credit card numbers. We are sure as time goes on more will be discovered regarding this hacking attack. After vigorous research and fact gathering, the LTWM team thought it would be a good idea to share with you the steps we took to protect ourselves from this unfortunate data breach.
Take the steps below to protect yourself from criminals:
Step 1: Your first step would be to check the website that Equifax set up in response to this attack (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) to find out if your information was stolen by the hackers. Irrespective of whether or not your data has been breached, we recommend the following:
Even though it is free to all Americans, we would not necessarily take their offer for one-year of free credit monitoring mentioned on the Equifax website. This is not due to the rumor regarding an arbitration clause applying to the data breach, as that rumor has been proven untrue. From Snopes.com:
The terms of service for Equifax's credit monitoring service, TrustedID Premier, say that users give up their right to participate in a class-action lawsuit or arbitration.
Those who use TrustedID Premier do not give up their right to participate in a class-action lawsuit or arbitration against Equifax over the 2017 data breach."
And from the Equifax website itself:
This was apparently clarified by Equifax after an inquiry from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating the incident.
Some may choose to sign up for this service because it’s free. Equifax has stated that they will not automatically switch you to a paid subscription after the year of service has lapsed. Great, right?
NOT SO FAST! This data is going to be useful to criminals for much longer than one year. This is why we use LifeLock(www.lifelock.com). Not only will we have protection well beyond one year, but we will have the service that LifeLock provides should our data be utilized for nefarious purposes, or if we lost our wallets, and more. As of yesterday, if someone is to sign up for their service, they have a promo code (LOCK17HB) to receive a 30% discount on the standard membership, at $6.99 per month. This promo code does not apply to the upper tiers of membership that provide greater protection and service. Should you choose to use their service, you will want to select the tier that is right for you. There are other services out there, but this is the one that we use and know. This is not an endorsement of LifeLock's services, and Lake Tahoe Wealth Management, Inc. has no affiliation with LifeLock.
A year of protection is inadequate for data that will continue to be useful well beyond 365 days. Gee, thanks, Equifax. Way to use your failure to protect our data as a marketing plug for your lackluster credit monitoring service......
Step 2: This should be done every month, and even better in real time with the apps that most credit card companies provide: check all credit cards for suspicious activity.
Step 3: Again, this should be done on a constant basis as well: request a free annual credit report from at least once agency at www.annualcreditreport.com. We have long recommended clients pull one every 4 months from a different agency to check throughout the year. However, there is an even better option. Most credit card issuers now offer your credit report for free through an app or website that you can access at any time. Many even provide you a credit score. We take advantage of both.
Step 4: If you are uncomfortable stopping at Step 3 (we do not have a freeze as LifeLock alerts us when our credit report is pulled), you can choose to place a credit freeze at each of the three credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Taking this action can cause complications when you decide to use your credit, as you would have to unfreeze your credit before applying. There can be a small charge to place and lift the freeze, depending on your state and you have to set up a PIN for when you do apply. Considering many of us have plans to make major purchases and use financing in the next year, you chose not to take this step if you are comfortable with your credit monitoring service. However, if one does not have LifeLock or a similar service, we would recommend taking this step.
Step 5: File your tax return early, as doing so this can help prevent tax fraud. Of course, for many taxpayers with more complicated income tax circumstances this is not really an option.
We have mentioned the above steps to clients in the past, and this major cyber attack on Equifax has given us the opportunity to revisit the topic while the country is focused on it. While it can be a nuisance and there could be a cost, there is no reason to believe that black-hat hackers will ever stop inventing new methods to steal information that they can use to enrich themselves; making the above steps as necessary as locking your car and front door at night.
As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Lake Tahoe Wealth Management Advisor. If you are not yet working with our Team, give us a call at 1-855-515-5896 and we would be happy to help you.