On September 7, 2017 Equifax, one of the “Big Three” credit monitoring companies, (TransUnion and Experian being the other two), finally admitted that personal data for about half of America (143 Million) had been breached between mid-May and July, and they (supposedly) discovered the problem on July 29. By that data, it took the about 40 days to admit the problem, during which untold problems could occur. Actually, the security industry found the vulnerability in March or 2017, and steps were taken, but were insufficient. Some people at Equifax are now unemployed, having not responded adequately to the known potential.
In the history of hacking, this was the granddaddy, in terms of overall number of affected Americans and the amount and type of data lost. Yahoo leads in the number of affected accounts, but the Equifax breach is far worse. The nature of the data loss includes Social Security numbers, addresses, and some drivers’ licenses. You can imagine what a criminal mind can do with all that, especially when considering the amount of other personal data available routinely online. Scary.
What to do? The most obvious first move is to check your current situation. Look at your account balances – banks, credit unions, brokerage accounts, etc. If you are not comfortable with what you see, any strange activity should be reported immediately to the company holding your account. One of the key factors in solving the problem is the timeliness of discovery and action.
There are multiple opinions as to the best course of action for the average person, so I’ll filter them for you. The Federal Trade Commission is promoting its own website, but it is tediously long, and not easy to navigate. From my searches, I found that (no surprise) Clark Howard’s website is clear and concise, as well as very practical.
The first thing I noticed from Clark is that he is no fan of Equifax’s offer of free monitoring for a year. This is contrary to many opinions I’ve read, but I wholeheartedly agree with him. What Clark does recommend is freezing your credit, I find that this is a very misunderstood process, requiring further explanation. First, your credit, including credit cards, etc. are unaffected by a freeze. Continue to use them as normal. The freeze will prevent anyone from opening up new lines of credit, personal loans, new credit cards, and the like without your specific authorization.
Also important is knowing that if you choose to open new credit lines, credit cards, or loans, you have to put a temporary “thaw” on your report. This usually costs $10, but not always. The freeze will then be reinstated.
Services such as LifeLock (full disclosure – I have had LL for years) will help you stay in “real-time” by watching your activity, or the activity that is going on as if it were you. These services are not inexpensive, and have differing service levels with differing costs. I also have a first-hand report that right now their phone lines are terribly backed up. ADT Security has also published this webpage as a resource for what to do if your identity has been stolen.
One final reminder – if you attempt to get the truth from Equifax as to whether you were personally breached, you cannot trust them to provide a consistent and truthful answer, according to Clark Howard’s actual research team.
Protect yourself with, at a minimum, knowledge. More action is probably smart. Here are the instructions for doing a credit freeze in the State of Florida. Your small investment in time and money should pay back in peace of mind.
Van Wie Financial is fee-only. For a reason.