One of the top news stories in the last two weeks has been the hack of the Equifax database, affecting by their own estimates about 143 million Americans. This has been one of the biggest breaches in history, but only part of a chain of breaches in recent years.
What is unique about this breach? Because Equifax is one of the big three credit reporting agencies, it had information on social security numbers, birth dates, credit cards, lines of credit and other information. That information would allow someone to pose as you.
What to do? Consumers have been deluged with suggestions. We will try to help members pick out the key items.
FIRST, obtain a free credit report at WWW.ANNUALCREDITREPORT.COM. If you need help reviewing it, come into the credit union and we can go over your report together.
SECOND, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Generally, these will cost about $10 a month for the basic service covering all the credit bureaus. Most will send you a report if anything shows up and then every month to confirm. You do not need to “overbuy”. Costco, AAA, and the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) offer services.
THIRD, look at your accounts online and question any uncertain activity. It’s a good idea to do this weekly. With computer and phone access, it takes under a minute. Many institutions, including Sierra, offer mobile account access with secure fingerprint login, making it quicker and safer to monitor your account through your phone.
FOURTH, you can control access to your account. You can request a lock on credit from the credit bureaus. This blocks access to any new inquiries, without impacting existing loans or lines of credit. You’ll have to unlock your credit when you are, for instance, buying a car. Equifax is saying that they will provide this service for free beginning in January or February. Experian will freeze your credit for a fee, and try to sell you a package which includes credit monitoring. You should review these services carefully before signing up.
FINALLY, Now that you are reviewing your account regularly (right?), question small charges with your institution. Fraudsters will frequently test credit access with small charges of say $4. Then they hit with the bigger charges. Recently a member came to us with a statement for their checking account with a very large bank. It had two $4 charges on it within a day that the member didn’t recognize. When they called the local big bank branch, the personal banker told them it was probably nothing, it was ONLY $8 and they should ignore it. Not the right advice. Small charges are a Red Flag.
Whether this latest data breach impacts you or not, the above steps can help you prevent future identity theft. Find more information on protecting yourself from identity theft on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, consumer.ftc.gov.