You’ve probably heard a bit about the Equifax breach. In light of this breach, I thought it may be useful to remind everyone about the things we can do to protect ourselves from unauthorized access to our financial accounts.
Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. They maintain credit reports for 143 million American consumers. Hackers were able to access Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and drivers license numbers. There are also a small number of people whose credit card numbers were accessed.
With that information, scammers can obtain credit in your name, file a tax return and obtain your refund and basically wreak havoc on your life. If they successfully do this, you’ll spend years and countless hours working to restore your good credit and obtain your tax refund.
What the experts say you should do to protect yourself:
The Federal Trade Commission suggests you find out if your information was exposed. Follow the link above for instructions on how to find out if you were exposed. But trust that most of us were exposed–I was.
If your information was exposed, Equifax will provide one year of free monitoring. Per Clark Howard, this sounds like a great offer but it’s very likely the problems won’t happen until the one year free monitoring lapses–the bad guys know when that one year offer expires! Plus, you’re trusting the guys who screwed up to make sure no one victimizes you!
We should review our credit reports and we can do this for free each year by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. I put a note in my calendar to review one of the bureau’s reports every four months. I make sure all of the accounts are accounts that I opened and make sure no late payments or problems are noted on the report.
After reviewing your report, you really need to freeze your credit. I froze mine late last year and wrote about it in I Froze My Credit–Should you? It was super easy to go on line to all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experion, and Transunion to set up the freeze. They each provided a pin or password that will allow me to temporarily unfreeze my credit if I need to apply for a loan in the future. I haven’t done this yet (y’all know how I hate debt!) but my research tells me it is very easy.
Clark Howard also recommends we sign up for Credit Karma’s free credit monitoring. I did this some time ago and receive emails when my credit score changes, Clark says they also send alerts if they notice suspicious activity.
File your tax return as early as possible. Two of my friends’ returns were filed fraudulently and the bad guys got refunds. It took them several months and many hours to correct this and get their own refund. So file your return as soon as you receive your tax forms.
What other things have I done to protect myself?
I reduced the amount of personal information people can access on my personal social media accounts. Get rid of the year on your date of birth. If your mother is your FB friend and uses her maiden name, guess what? The bad guys then know your mother’s maiden name. Check your privacy settings and make sure only your friends can see your information including your list of friends etc.
I reviewed all of my logins and passwords and made some changes. Make sure your account logon and passwords are unique and complex. If you’re logging on using your Social Security number, change it immediately–you know the bad guys have that! If you have simple passwords, make them more complex. If you have the name of the site in your password, remove it. Get rid of password hints and reset questions. These make it easier for bad guys to login to your account.
I set up dual authentication on my accounts including my email accounts. Because password resets and hints often go through email, your email account security is important too. If your financial institution offers voice validation to access your account, set it up. If they can require a text messaged pin to access your account from a new device, set it up. Whatever extra security is available, set it up. The few extra seconds it takes are well worth it.
Talk to your friends and family members about changes they should make–even better, send them a link to this article 🙂
Hopefully we can be like the deer in my picture above and keep most of ourselves hidden.
What did I miss? What other steps have you taken to protect your accounts?
Picture credit: MR on Cottonwood Pass between Gypsum and Basalt, Colorado