Nate Porter | Chief Operating Officer
As you’re aware, due to a data breach at the credit reporting firm Equifax, more than a hundred million Americans have had their sensitive personal information exposed. Within 24 hours of this incident going public, we sent you a communication with all of the info we had at the time, as well as some suggested next steps.
Since then, our team has had dozens of conversations with various clients concerning the data breach. We have assembled the content of those multiple conversations into the single communication below. The most important thing to remember is this: Soundview Advisors has your back. We would be happy to talk/walk with you through any of the processes laid out below. No question is too simple, and no request for help is too complex. It would be our pleasure to lend a hand however we can. This is exactly what we’re here for.
Monitor Your Credit
If your personal information was impacted by this data breach, Equifax is providing free credit monitoring through TrustedID Premier. You can find out if you qualify and enroll for the service here. There was some initial concern that by signing up for this service, a consumer would waive the right to participate in arbitration or a class action in the future. Equifax has removed this language from its site as detailed in a recent update: click here to read.
There are other credit monitoring services available for a monthly fee, but you can also monitor credit yourself by requesting a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). You can choose to stagger these reports every four months in order to check in more regularly on your credit file. You are able to sign up online (http://www.annualcreditreport.com/), by phone (1-877-322-8228), or by mail if you prefer. Credit monitoring is a step that we recommend for everyone, whether done through a service or on your own .
Protect Your Data
Whether or not your personal information was compromised in this latest data breach, we strongly recommend taking the following proactive steps to reduce the possibility of identify theft going forward.
Shred all outdated/unneeded documents that contain sensitive information, credit card offers, expired cards, etc.
Set up complex passwords and use a password manager to generate and track them (LastPass, Roboform, etc.).
Never give your sensitive information to unsolicited phone callers.
Install anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computers and keep the Operating System up to date.
Enable security features on mobile devices.
Exercise extreme caution in clicking links and opening attachments on emails— the bad guys are getting very good at making viruses look like normal documents.
Don’t submit sensitive data while using non-secured, public wifi (Starbucks is NOT secure!).
If you don’t have a PO Box or locked mailbox, collect mail promptly and suspend it while you’re away.
Be prudent in deciding how much personal information to disclose on social media.
Consider a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze is strongly recommended for anyone that has been a victim of identity theft. It will also help those who want additional peace of mind and don’t mind dealing with a little extra hassle when obtaining new credit. A credit (or security) freeze can be done at each of the credit reporting agencies. It prevents any new credit accounts from being open in your name unless a unique PIN, which is generated at the time of the freeze, is provided to the credit bureau to temporarily lift the freeze. It is simplest to do this online or over the phone, but it can also be done by mail if preferred.
Note: there is often a cost associated with freezing and unfreezing credit at each agency ($5-$10), but there are numerous exceptions where these costs can be avoided. For example, in the state of Washington, if you are over age 65 there is no cost to freeze or unfreeze your credit. Also, Equifax has temporarily waived their fees until November 21 and has said they will refund any fees that were paid before the waiver was announced. Click here for a handy reference for how to go about placing a security freeze at the three major agencies and what fees you may face in your state of residence.
There is a lesser known credit reporting agency, Innovis, and they also allow for a credit freeze (at no cost) - click here for more information.