Last year Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies, disclosed a breach of personal data on some 143 million U.S. customers. This is a huge deal and we will be seeing a good deal on this story in the weeks to come, like why it took them 40 days to report it, and why three executives sold stock days after the breach was discovered. In the meantime, I wanted to provide some steps you can take today to protect your financial identity regardless of whether you were affected by the Equifax breach or not.
What can you do? Quite a lot!
- Software: Keep your antimalware, anti-spyware and operating system software current!
- Backups: Use multi-version backup software for system and/or file recovery as needed.
- Passwords: Create strong, unique passwords and periodically change them.
- Extra security: Use it when available, such as two-step verification or fingerprint access.
- Phishing: Be careful about clicking links or opening attachments, especially from strangers.
- Social media: Privatize your profiles and activities so only those you allow in can see them.
- WiFi: Be extra careful using public WiFi; assume the world can see what you’re doing.
Suspicious Phone Calls
- Identify: Legitimate callers don’t call unannounced and entice or threaten you.
- End the call: Your best line of defense is to immediately hang up.
- Don’t cooperate: Never share your credit card number or any other sensitive information.
- Investigate: End the call and contact the alleged source directly to inquire further.
- Report: Report the suspicious number to federal authorities.
Credit and Records Management
- Watch for inconsistencies: Look for odd transactions in your financial statements.
- Watch for missing statements: In case your account has been redirected elsewhere.
- Monitor your credit reports: Request and review your free AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Consider a credit freeze: If you rarely apply for loans, you may want to freeze your credit.
- Follow up promptly: If something seems “off,” immediately change any login passwords, and promptly contact the service provider and appropriate federal authorities.
- Remain on guard: There is still plenty of old-fashioned theft going on.
- Secure it: Lock up your desk, files, car, mailbox and trash bins.
- Shred it: Use a shredder to destroy any paperwork you do not need to keep.
- When you’re out and about: Keep a close eye on your purse or wallet everywhere you go.
- Filling in forms: Don’t provide your Social Security Number unless actually required.
- Banking: When using an ATM machine, look for others around you or signs of tampering.
What if they succeed? Act Promptly
- Online: Promptly change passwords on any affected accounts; recover backups as needed.
- In general: Check in with any bank or other institution involved, and the government agency responsible for overseeing the breach: the IRS for tax fraud, or the FTC for anything else.
- Financial: If you feel your financial security has been compromised, we’ll want to hear from you as well! We’ll do all we can to help you fix the breach and minimize any damage done.