Making Cents: Equifax Follow Up
By: John P. Napolitano, CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST
It’s been a while now since the Equifax data security breach was announced and I want to know what you have done. Just because you haven’t seen any damage done to your identity or credit yet doesn’t mean anything. In fact, many data security specialists are saying that it is common for criminals to sit on stolen data for a while before they act on it. After all, your Social Security number and your date of birth don’t change and under current systems will never get stale.
The first step is to put a freeze attached to your social security number with all three credit reporting agencies. The agencies are Equifax, Transunion and Experian. When the news first broke, many had mentioned that they systems were slow and problematic. Now that some time has elapsed, we are receiving reports that the systems are much faster and easier to use.
These credit freezes are so strong that you won’t even be able to obtain credit while the freeze is in place. So if you plan to apply for credit or any kind soon, you may consider holding off on the freezes or be prepared to go through the process of freezing and un-freezing.
The process of freezing and unfreezing is not only extra work, you will also get charged for it. Equifax, the source of the latest confirmed breach will actually waive their fee because of their breach. But for the others, you will have to pay a fee to unlock your account and then again when you go to re-establish the freeze. Forget about the hassle factor and get this done.
Another important step in protecting your identity is to monitor your credit scores regularly. Each of the credit reporting agencies is required to provide you with one free credit score per year. To be in the habit of checking regularly, you may consider requesting your free report from one of the three agencies every four months. That means that over the course of a year you will have looked at three copies of your credit report.
Most reports suggest that we all have about a 50/50 chance that your personally identifiable information was breached in this Equifax hack. If you are on the Equifax list as a confirmed breach, Equifax will also provide a free credit monitoring service. There are many levels of credit monitoring services. At this point, you may want to sign up for one of the many advertised so you can follow what is going on with your most important information.
The advanced features of these services will allow you to specifically follow certain accounts, whether from a bank, investment company, credit card or just about anything for suspicious activity. You can also ask your credit card company’s directly to alert you for any transactions made over a certain dollar amount or for transactions processed outside of the USA.
This sounds like a lot of work – and it is. But understand that this effort is paled by the work that it takes to restore a stolen identity.
John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA is CEO of U. S. Wealth Management in Braintree, MA. Visit JohnPNapolitano on LinkedIn or uswealthnapolitano.com. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. John Napolitano is a registered principal with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through US Financial Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. US Financial Advisors and US Wealth Management are separate entities from LPL Financial. He can be reached at 781-849-9200.