Special Release - Equifax Data Breach
West Financial Special Releasei - On September 7th, credit reporting agency Equifax announced a massive data breach that occurred between May through July of this year and affected an estimated 143 million consumers in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdomii. The personal information exposed includes Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and in some cases, credit card numbers. Given how sensitive this information is, and what could be done with it in the wrong hands, experts across industries are recommending that this situation be taken very seriously. Though the magnitude of this incident is still unfolding, we wanted to take a moment to share our thoughts on the steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Check to see if you are potentially impacted on www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Equifax is offering a year of their credit monitoring service free of charge, whether you were compromised or not, and you do not have to provide credit card information when signing up. After a recent policy change, signing up for the monitoring service does not prohibit you from taking legal action against the company in the future.
- Obtain your credit report from the 3 reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – on www.annualcreditreport.com, the government website that allows you to get a free copy of each report every 12 months. If you notice any suspicious or incorrect information, file a dispute with the reporting bureau in question. For more on what to look for in your credit report, please see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s page on credit reports and scores.
- Monitor your bank, credit card and investment account statements closely. While this is always a good practice, it is of paramount importance at times like this. Keep in mind that the breach happened three months ago, so it’s possible your information is already being used. Please contact us as soon as possible if you are the victim of identity theft, so that we can take the proper precautions with your investment accounts.
- Place a 90-day fraud alert or a freeze on your credit.
90-day fraud alert – This is free and will require lenders to contact you if someone (including yourself) tries to apply for credit. You only have to do this with one bureau in order for the alert to be placed on all three, and it should take less than 5 minutes:
Credit Freeze – Kim Cox wrote about freezing your credit in our quarterly newsletter in 2014, and provided an update on un-freezing your credit in June of this year. As she said, “a freeze prevents any new loans, credit and/or services from being approved in your name. The downside of freezing your credit report information is that you cannot refinance your mortgage, open a home equity line-of-credit, sign up for a new credit card, etc., unless you un-freeze your frozen reports.” There is a $10 fee with each agency to freeze your credit (Equifax is offering to do this for free, for obvious reasons), and no cost to un-freeze your credit for any length of time, if necessary.
Equifax: www.freeze.equifax.com or (800) 685-1111
Experian: www.experian.com/freeze or (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: freeze.transunion.com or (888) 909-8872
As your financial advisors, we strive to do everything in our power to safeguard your assets and information. Phishing attacks and other forms of social engineering will likely increase and improve, now that our adversaries have information to craft even more realistic messages. If you would like to discuss additional measures that can be taken to protect your investment accounts, please contact your relationship manager at West Financial.
i This material is intended to be educational in nature, and not as a recommendation of any particular strategy, approach, product or concept for any particular advisor or client. These materials are not intended as any form of substitute for individualized investment advice. The discussion is general in nature, and therefore not intended to recommend or endorse any asset class, security, or technical aspect of any security for the purpose of allowing a reader to use the approach on their own. Before participating in any investment program or making any investment, clients as well as all other readers are encouraged to consult with their own professional advisers, including investment advisers and tax advisors. West Financial Services can assist in determining a suitable investment approach for a given individual, which may or may not closely resemble the strategies outlined herein.
ii Data provided by www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.