In early September, we posted our “How to Avoid Identity Theft” blog. Due to the recent Equifax data breach, we are providing a follow up post with additional steps you can take to protect yourself against identity theft.
The Equifax data breach lasted from mid-May through July of this year. Hackers were able to access names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birthdates, and driver’s license numbers. To protect your identity, we recommend that you consider the following actions.
1. Keep an eye on your finances.
• You can check your credit report from each credit reporting agency once a year free of charge on www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This site is the only site that is federally authorized to provide you with your free credit reports. You can check all three reports at once, or check your report from one bureau at a time every few months. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar credit inquiries, accounts, or derogatory marks.
• You can monitor your credit score from two of the credit reporting agencies for free on www.CreditKarma.com. If you would like Credit Karma to monitor your report and notify you of changes, you can do so by following the steps below:
o Profile & Settings > Communications & Monitoring > Check the “Credit Monitoring” box.
• Keep an eye on your bank account and credit card statements for any unfamiliar transactions. One way to monitor these accounts is to set alerts through your credit card providers and banks to notify you of transactions over a specified amount in your accounts.
2. Consider setting a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert notifies lenders to take extra precautions to verify your identity if someone attempts to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts typically last for 90 days, but you have the option to place an extended fraud alert on your report that lasts for 7 years. If you would like to place a fraud alert on your report, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately. You can place the fraud alert for free online or by telephone.
• Equifax: Telephone 1-(888) 766-0008 Online www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp
• Experian: Telephone 1-(888) 397-3742 Online www.experian.com/fraud/center.html
• Transunion: Telephone 1-(800) 680-7289 Online http://fraud.transunion.com/fa/fraudAlert/landingPage.jsp
3. Consider freezing your credit. A credit freeze prevents lenders from accessing your credit report. This makes it impossible for anyone (including you) to open new lines of credit while the freeze is in place. Credit freezes offer a higher level of protection than fraud alerts but are not a good option if you plan to apply for credit in the near future. It is important to note that your current credit and bank accounts will still be vulnerable to identity theft. In most states, the freeze remains in place until you remove it. In a few states, the freeze is removed automatically after 7 years. To put the freeze into place, there is a fee of between $5 to $10 required by each credit reporting agency (unless you are already a victim of identity theft, in which case, the fee is waived). You must also pay between $5 to $10 if you would like to lift the freeze from your report. You might consider placing a freeze on your credit if you are a victim of identity theft. You can place the freeze online or by telephone. When you request the freeze, you will be given a PIN. Be sure to save the PIN in a secure location, as you will need it to remove the freeze from your credit.
• Equifax: Telephone 1-(800) 685-1111 Online www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
• Experian: Telephone 1-(888) 397-3742 Online www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze
• Transunion: Telephone 1-(888) 909-8872 Online http://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp
4. Consider filing your tax return early next year. Due to the data breach, there is an increased risk of fraudulent tax return filing. The FTC is suggesting to file tax returns early to mitigate this risk. By filing your tax return earlier, there is less opportunity for a scammer to use your social security number to get a tax refund.
If you would like to further discuss strategies to protect yourself against identity theft, please contact Heller Wealth Advisors to speak with one of our financial professionals.