The personal information of roughly 1/2 the US population may have been compromised during the recent data breach/hack at Equifax. THIS IS A BIG DEAL! It wasn’t just account numbers and credit card info that was taken. For those affected, the hackers may have access to permanent information about you including your name, SSN, date of birth, etc. This info doesn’t expire and it useful to an identity thief forever. As such, we really are living in a different world now- a world in which the burden to truly protect and monitor your personal information and credit ultimately rests on your shoulders. Trusting other institutions to fully safeguard your info won’t cut it anymore.
In light of the Equifax hack, here are the steps that I’m considering:
- Sign up for credit monitoring. I’m using Credit Karma. It is free and their interface is very easy to navigate. Having read credit reports in the past, it can be difficult to interpret everything on the report. Credit Karma makes it easy to understand the items on your credit report. Your credit report will show all credit accounts that you currently have open (i.e. car loans, credit cards, and mortgages). You want to scan your report to make sure there are no accounts on your report that are fraudulent…like a credit card that you didn’t open! I used to check my credit file annually; however, in a post-Equifax-hack world, I think it will need to become a monthly or quarterly task.
- Once you’ve signed up for credit monitoring, you can put a credit freeze on your credit profile (note: You have to sign up for a Credit Karma account before you put a freeze on your credit). This is kind of an intense process. You will have to setup online accounts or call each of the three main credit agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). You will need to temporarily remove the freeze anytime your apply for credit (i.e. get a car loan, refinance your home, change internet providers, etc.). When you add or remove the freeze, the credit repository will charge a small fee ($3-10). So, if you don’t anticipate adding/changing credit accounts very often, this could be a good solution. A credit freeze prevents companies from accessing your credit file – if requested, your credit file comes back as “frozen.” So, if a thief was trying to open fraudulent accounts in your name, they would likely not succeed because most lenders require a credit check before opening a new account. A credit freeze does not protect your existing accounts from fraud, it only prevents new accounts from being opened. The Federal Trade Commission has a nice overview of the credit freeze process here.
- Consider buying identity theft insurance. If a thief does hack your identity, and is able to open accounts in your name, it will be a BIG pain getting your life straight again. You can buy insurance to help mitigate the financial loss you might suffer if your identity is compromised. Insurance can also provide you access to experts (attorneys and counselors) that can help you get your life back together. There are companies that offer identity theft protection like Lifelock and Identity Force. However, a bunch of their services can be accessed for free (like at Credit Karma). These companies provide stolen funds reimbursement from $25,000 up to $1,000,000. A different and cheaper option could be to add an endorsement on your homeowner/renters policy for identity theft protection. Most insurance companies offer something like this that you can add to your policy. I believe you can buy this coverage for about $20 per year and most of them cover you for up to $25,000 for indentity theft protection. Talk to your home/auto insurance agent for more information. I plan on posting a blog that details this coverage in the coming weeks.
No matter what you decide to do, it is important that you take control of your information and REGULARLY monitor your credit and financial accounts. If you are affected by identity theft, catching it early will make it much easier to remedy.
If you’re a client at Verisail and have more questions about the hack and how to protect yourself, give us a call and we’ll talk through it.