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Steps to Reduce the Impact of the Equifax Breach

As many of you know, Equifax recently announced a massive breach of its database that comprised information of 143 million Americans.  Many people are now wondering what to do to protect themselves and their identity.  Identity theft has become a significant problem and can cause headaches for years.

In response to this breach, Equifax has established a website – www.equifaxsecurity2017.com – at which you can find out whether your own personal data was impacted.  In order to determine whether your personal information has been breached, you will need to enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number.  If your data has been impacted, the website allows you to enroll for 12 months of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.

The question then becomes what are the best steps you should take to protect your identity and information.  If you think about the 12 months of identity theft protection Equifax is offering, the protection is really just limited to that 12 month period unless you are willing to continue the protection once the free period expires.  The bad guys know that the protection is offered for only 12 months and they know many individuals will fail to continue the subscription.  The following are a few steps we think are worth considering as better options to signing up for Equifax’s offer:

  1. Freeze your credit. In essence, what you are doing when you freeze your credit is gaining control over who is accessing your credit history.  This is also called a security freeze.  Thieves who have access to certain key data like a social security number could try to apply for credit in your name.  A freeze prevents new creditors from looking at your report and score while existing creditors that you already have a history with will still be able to access your credit information.

There is a fee in most states to freeze your credit that ranges from $3 to $10.  Equifax is waiving this fee until Nov. 21st which is also the last day to sign up for their free credit monitoring.  There are seven (7) states that offer this service for free including Colorado, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York and South Carolina.

To freeze your credit, you need to contact all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  You can freeze your credit online or via phone.  The contact numbers and websites are listed below:

Equifax        800-685-1111                  https://freeze.equifax.com

TransUnion  888-909-8872                  https://freeze.transunion.com

Experian      888-397-3742                  www.experian.com/freeze

The freeze remains in effect until you request that it be removed.  You will need the password or PIN that is given to you when you initially freeze your credit to lift the freeze so keep this information in a safe place.  You can also ask for a temporary release period if you are applying for a loan, for instance.

  1. Go to True Identity’s website at trueidentity.com and sign up for FREE identity theft protection. True Identity is offered by TransUnion which is the only major bureau with a free identity and credit protection offering.  The benefit to this identity protection offering is that it’s free and hence you don’t have to remember to renew your subscription.
  1. Be vigilant. Check your credit reports.  Change your passwords to financial accounts at your bank from time to time.  Review your credit card and bank account transactions to verify the transactions are yours and that there is no suspicious activity.  Take action if you are no longer receiving bills from a frequent creditor, like Macy’s, implying that your address has been changed.
  1. Contact your home insurance agent. Many home insurance carriers offer “identity recovery coverage”.  This coverage typically takes effect when your identity has been stolen and reimburses you for expenses such as attorney fees, lost wages for time taken away from work, costs for re-filing loan and grant applications, etc.  The cost of this coverage is usually very minimal.

Finally, we also want to inform you about Schwab’s “Security Guarantee”.  The Schwab Security Guarantee applies to unauthorized activity in client accounts managed by independent investment advisors.  The guarantee says that Schwab will cover 100% of any losses in any of your Schwab accounts due to unauthorized activity.  You don’t have to apply for or request the Security Guarantee; it is provided automatically.  Schwab does expect you to keep your account access information private and to report unauthorized transactions as quickly as possible.

If you have any other additional questions regarding the Equifax breach, please feel free to call any of us at THOR.