With the recent news of the Equifax security breach, there's more reason than ever for you to be concerned and informed, and to take action to protect your identity. The financial data of 143 million Americans has been stolen, and the victims are at risk of identity theft for the remainder of their lives. If you're like many people, it's common to think your information is being floated out there for potential fraudsters to get their hands on, but that's not necessarily true.
The Equifax data breach was one of the largest hacks in history. The hackers got Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers and even some driver's license numbers. The long-term threats this breach poses to individuals is unimaginable and real. The company lacked proper security measures and information was stolen. When the company determined what had happened, its CEOs and executives claimed they had no prior knowledge—yet they had sold their shares in the company, and Equifax was able to make a statement to the media about what had happened. The most disheartening thing is that, in spite of this chain of events, the company's top brass probably feel good about themselves, and they even had the nerve to offer their clients a one-year free subscription to their credit monitoring service (are they serious?).
Now that it's happened, you’re probably asking yourself what you can do to protect yourself, and it's wise to do so. Unfortunately, the company just gave you a bunch of homework to do to learn about the various options to protect yourself and added one more boring task to your personal financial planning efforts. But with a few quick phone calls or clicks on your computer, you can protect yourself and your family rather than being a potential candidate for identity theft.
There are many things you can do to protect your identity, and here are several you might want to consider. The first two are pretty critical, and if you've already done them and you're still having a hard time falling asleep at night, go the extra mile and complete the last two steps. Investing a bit of time and energy into the process can go a long way toward protecting yourself and giving you peace of mind.
Strategies to Protect Your Identity From Fraud
Don’t sign up with Equifax for their one-year free protection. The company would love you to sign up for their service as long as you click "yes" on the disclosures. But the reality is, you most likely won’t have the time or energy to read them, since they would put you to sleep. It's likely there will be a waiver in the user agreement that releases Equifax from any future liability. Almost like adding insult to injury offering a free one-year service. Equifax may be better off chalking this up as an epic fail and closing their doors, they ultimately lost all credibility.
Sign up for an identity theft protection service like Lifelock Identity Theft Protection or, if you belong to Costco, Costco Complete ID. For $8.99 to $29.99 a month, you can get excellent protection from hackers who are trying to open accounts in your name. Any plan is better than no plan, and it's a learning process to understand how they work. Know going into this that if you need to get a loan in the future, it will create more work. The price of safety is time-consuming and costly.
Extra Steps You Can Take to Prevent Identity Theft
Call or go online to each of the three credit agencies and place a freeze on all of your credit files. When you get ready to apply for a loan or take out a credit card, you'll need to call or go online and have these released. The credit bureaus already have your Social Security number, date of birth, and most address records if you've ever done business or had any type of loan. (For related reading, see: Avoid Becoming an Identity Thief's Next Victim.)
Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
As an added protection, you could even call your credit card providers and ask them to send you a new account number, as your information may be floating. This is an extra precautionary measure that will require you to call any recurring automatic payment provider and update your information (i.e. Netflix, gym memberships, cable, cell phone, etc.).
It's sad that we live in a world where we experience a near-constant barrage of threats, gimmicks and potential risks to our futures, but it's also reality. The recent events involving Equifax are unfortunate, especially because the agency was established with the express purpose of protecting people. Consider taking precautionary steps to protect yourself. Having a conversation with your family, attorney and financial planner can go a long way toward protecting yourself.
And finally, remember this: The more things change, the more they stay the same. More security means everyone needs to create stronger alphanumeric/special character passwords that will require additional verification. Eventually, it may be deemed safer to conduct all business transactions in person, not online, as the risks associated with money movement and fraud increase. Or, to tweak another well-known phrase, everything old just might become new again.
(For more from this author, see: A College Financial Plan for the Student and Parent.)