The 2017 Equifax data breach brought to light how vulnerable consumers are to their personal information being compromised, which has caused consumers to lose faith in the entities that were supposed to keep personal information the most secure. Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies that consumers rely on to provide lenders with their credit score. These agencies not only hold the magic number that determines if you are a responsible consumer but they also have all your personal information such as your name, addresses, contact information, Social Security number, date of birth, your financial account information and balances, and your bankruptcy and collection information which could include your medical expenses that went into default. So, when hackers breached the Equifax database, they found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 147 million people had their information exposed in the Equifax data breach, if you were lucky enough to not be exposed in that breach don’t be fooled that your information wasn’t compromised in another breach. These breaches also hit close to home. This past January there was a cyberattack that targeted Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance, exposing the data of at least 100,000 people. Just as you would put a security system in your house to protect your family and assets, there are security measures to put in place to protect you and your family’s personal information even if it has already been compromised.
As fiduciaries, we provide clients with recommendations and information surpassing their investments and financial plan. Here are the security measures we have been recommending to clients to protect them from the increasing cyber security threat.
- Find out if your information was exposed in the Equifax data breach
Equifax has an official settlement website where you can find out if your information was impacted in the breach and if so, the information on the rights and options you have as a class member. First follow this link to find out if you were impacted: https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/Eligibility. If you were impacted by the breach, Equifax gives you two primary settlement options. You can receive free credit monitoring services or up to $125 cash payment (key words “up to”). We are recommending clients choose the free credit monitoring because the cash payment will likely be substantially less than $125 and one year of credit monitoring costs a minimum of $120. When you file a claim and choose which settlement option to take, make sure to save your confirmation page that has your claim number. They do not send a confirmation email with your claim number, so if you don’t save the confirmation page, you must go through a lengthy phone call for information regarding your claim. Neither of the settlement options will be distributed until after January 22, 2020, which is the deadline to submit a claim.
- Freeze your family’s credit
When you freeze your credit report, you are freezing the reporting ability that lenders and creditors use to verify your credit score. This prevents scammers who have gained access to your Social Security number and other personal information from having the ability to apply and open a credit card in your name. Freezing your credit also prevents you from opening new credit accounts while it is frozen. If you plan on applying for a new loan, it is best to unfreeze your credit a few days in advance to make sure the lender will have the ability to request and verify your credit score. I want to note that freezing your credit, does not freeze your actual credit score and it will continue to be calculated and fluctuate with your spending habits. So, keep making timely mortgage payments to keep that score up! Your children are also at risk of identity theft and having an account opened in their name, so it is best to freeze their credit and protect their finances early. It will probably take about an hour to freeze your credit since you must freeze it with each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Freezing your credit also prevents you from retrieving your Social Security statement, so we suggest logging onto the Social Security website and retrieving a statement for your records before freezing your credit.
Here are the instructions we give to our clients: When you go to freeze your credit, we recommend that you start with Equifax. Equifax will provide you a 10-digit pin that you cannot change. You cannot lose the pin they give you because that is what you need to unfreeze your credit. Experian and TransUnion give you the option to create your own pin. If you don’t want to keep track of three different pins to unfreeze your credit, you can reuse the pin Equifax gave you for Experian and part of it for TransUnion, as that pin is only 6 digits. Each website also gives you the option to freeze your children’s credit if they are minors.
- Use a password manager
How many of your passwords are the same password you have been using since high school where you capitalize the first letter, use the name of your first pet, and end it with your birth year? Example “Fido1989”. A cyber attacker knows that most people reuse passwords and have simple passwords, like the example I just gave. When you use a password manager, you only need to remember one password that logs you into your password manager account and the rest of your passwords are automatically generated using random characters. The password manager can be downloaded on all your devices so that it’s easy to log onto a site from your iPhone or PC. It also automatically saves and autofills your login information for each site, once you download the browser extension. Some password managers can also be used as a vault to keep sensitive information such as the pin you just created and need to unfreeze your credit. As a company we chose to use LastPass. It also provides security score reports on each employee to make sure the passwords being used are strong to prevent cyber hacks.
Associate Financial Advisor