You and your boss collaborate on an urgent project. Two coworkers revisit the highlights of last night’s game over the water cooler. Your wife and you enjoy a glass of wine at your favorite Italian restaurant. What do each of these situations have in common?
Chances are, in each scenario one party was impacted by the Equifax data breach. It is estimated that the identity of nearly half of the US population – approximately 143 million Americans – may have been compromised by what is being considered one of largest data breaches in history.
Let’s get acquainted with the issue:
What is Equifax? And why do they have my information?
Equifax is one of three major U.S. consumer reporting agencies, which also include Experian and TransUnion. Consumer reporting agencies collect and sell personal information on consumers. This information is used in everyday transactions: financing banks deciding whether to provide credit to purchase of a home or vehicle, apartment rent applications, insurance purchases, and background screening for employment. If you have ever engaged in one of these activities, these agencies have your information.
How did the breach happen?
A weak point in the Equifax website software allowed cyberthieves to access information between May and July of this year.
How can I prevent this from happening?
Consumers are, unfortunately, powerless against becoming victims of this type of hack. It is the responsibility of organizations that collect and store personal identity information to employ rigorous cybersecurity programs to protect your sensitive data. Equifax is currently under investigation, but it is in consumers’ best interest to get proactive about protecting their identity in the wake of this massive security threat.
Sharp Point has researched steps you can take to help protect yourself.
First, find out if your information may have been exposed.
Equifax’s website provides an online tool where you can see if your personal information may have been impacted by entering your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number. Unfortunately, the tool doesn’t definitively tell you whether you have been affected, just whether it is likely you have (or have not). To be safe, you should look yourself up by any previous names as well.
You were impacted: What now?
- Sign up for fraud protection. Equifax is offering a year of free fraud protection monitoring when you enroll in its TrustedID Premier program before November 21, 2017. Several other identity theft programs are available for a fee.
- Contact the three major credit reporting companies and review your free credit report from each of them. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each agency, which you can get by requesting a copy from AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Monitor your accounts for any unusual activity. Review bank and credit card statements for transactions you didn’t make, and credit reports for accounts you didn’t open, incorrect personal information and credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted.
- If possible, file your taxes early. In 2015 more than 600,000 tax related ID theft cases were reported. Identity thieves usually file early in the tax season, stealing legitimate taxpayer’s Social Security numbers to file false returns and cash in on refund checks. Many times, the first indication that your identity has been stolen comes via an IRS notice or the inability to file electronically. If you can’t file early, find peace knowing the IRS, state revenue departments and private-sector industry tax industry leaders are constantly working to put new safeguards in place that help fight against stolen identity refund fraud. These include authenticating taxpayer’s identity (via your driver’s license) and the validity of the tax return at the time of filing.
- Consider setting an Initial Fraud Alert. A fraud alert does not prevent a lender from opening credit in your name, but does require lenders to take additional steps to verify your identity before issuing a credit card, opening a new account or increasing a credit limit on an existing account. An Initial Fraud Alert is effective for 90 days for those who are at risk of being a victim.
- Consider placing a credit freeze. If you are really worried, you can freeze your credit. This makes it more difficult for a thief to open a new account in your name, but cannot prevent a thief from making changes to your existing accounts. In this scenario, lenders will not be able to gain access to your credit file unless you unlock it using a PIN only you have. If you lose the PIN, however, you will have to go through an arduous process to prove your identity before you can get another one.
Get serious about safeguarding your data. The bookkeepers at Sharp Point are your partners in this critical endeavor. Contact us today for more information on our security practices.