By: Andrew Rosen, CFP®, CEP®

Last week, news broke about Equifax getting hacked. As it is one of the three main credit agencies in the country, it’s a sensitive topic.  It has the potential to leave many of us vulnerable and exposed.  With that, below is what we know and actions you can take to help be better prepared.

What we know:

Sadly, not as much as we would have liked. We know that potentially 143 million accounts were hacked.  Equifax reported that social security numbers, names, addresses, and other personal data were compromised.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of mixed information floating around right now.  As of now, I have not heard reports of malicious activity using people’s personal information.  But, that’s not to say that it can’t (or won’t) happen.  The worst part is this breach apparently happened six weeks ago, but we are only finding out about it now.

Actions to take:

This is a tough one as it really depends on your level of concern.  I would start by checking your credit accounts (not only with Equifax, but also Experian & TransUnion).  This can be done free at www.annualcreditreport.com.  It’s recommended that everyone do this every year regardless.  Because of current events, now would be an opportune time to check. Go to the link and put in your personal information.  Then once you answer all the prompts, you’ll be able to view online. Scan the report for any suspicious activity.  Have any accounts been opened, or inquiries been requested, over the past few weeks that you haven’t personally initiated?  (Also, you might as well look to see if you have any potentially negative items in your credit history, as well.)

Next, I would sign up for Experian’s free 90 day monitoring system.  As the dust settles over the next 90 days, this will at least provide some level of comfort.  Signing up is quick and painless. Start by going to Experian Fraud Center.  From there, you’ll click “Add a fraud Alert”, then “Initial Security Alert 90 days.” Next, you’ll want to select “Add a fraud alert using your personal ID info or you can just enter your personal info.”  By signing up for the Security Alert on Experian, the other two bureaus, Equifax and Transunion will also be notified.   Upon completion, you can pull your credit report and see the credit alert was added.  It should look like this on the annual credit report site www.annualcreditreport.com (as I just did it myself).

Once you’ve checked these two sites, and signed up for Experian, go to the Equifax created site to handle the breach. On that site, you can see if your account was one of the ones compromised.  Additionally, they are giving the option to sign up for one year free credit monitoring.

Two things to note: First, the site may not necessarily be accurate in determining compromised accounts.  I’ve heard multiple reports that even if it says your account is safe it very well may have been hacked. Second, their disclaimer mentions if you sign up for the free monitoring it waves your rights to a class action lawsuit.  The disclaimer can be seen here (Equifax Terms) listed under #4, “No Class or Representative Arbitrations.” My take?  Do the first part and let’s see how things shape up in the next 90 days (before officially signing up for their monitoring).  I’m guessing the fallout from this is going to be so bad that they’ll drop that language ASAP.  Plus, if you signed up for Experian’s free service you already are receiving monitoring for the next 90 days.

In addition to the above, you can preemptively take steps by signing up for your own credit monitoring (through a service like Lifelock). They are another monitoring service that will alert you if anyone makes a credit inquiry on your behalf (they can be reached at www.Lifelock.com or 855-993-2152). I just got an email for 10% off and a $25 Amazon gift card for signing up, so mention that if you do take this step.

Furthermore, you can take the most cautionary step of all–freeze your credit.  This will prevent anyone from opening any credit on your behalf (including you).  If you did need credit, you’d have to remove the freeze then apply.  You would have to contact each credit agency separately, as they each have their own process.  I made it simple for you by just clicking here (Experian Credit Freeze, Equifax Credit Freeze, Transunion Credit Freeze).  Please know there is a cost to freezing your credit and the process can be taxing.  That said, if you are concerned, this is the most effective and proactive steps you can take.

There are plenty of free resources to keep you informed. Visit the identity theft resource center (www.idtheftcenter.org), which I’ve found as the most comprehensive and has plenty of useful information.  Whatever you do it is important that you are comfortable with your plan of attack.  At very least, do take advantage of the free resources being provided.  Make sure you are monitoring your finances a little more closely and stay up-to-date on information as it is made available. I imagine plenty of resources will be released to help combat this issue in the coming weeks. Whatever you do, act quickly!  As always, feel free to reach out if there is anything we can do.

Andrew Rosen

In his role as Financial Planner, Andrew forges lifelong relationships with clients.  He coaches them through all stages of life and guides them to better achieve their life goals.  For more information about Andrew or the other firm partners, Kyle Hill and David Levy, click the link below.

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