As you have likely heard in the news, credit reporting agency Equifax announced that hackers had potentially gained access to sensitive information for 143 million consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. Sadly this is just the latest major breach to make headlines, as Target, Home Depot and Yahoo! have also seen their customers’ personal information exposed just to name a few recent examples.1
With cyber attacks becoming increasingly common with each passing year, it’s only human nature to react to these stories with a general sense of apathy. However, that would be a mistake. If anything, these incidents serve as a powerful reminder that we all need to be diligent with protecting our personal information. Whether you’re already a victim or just trying to avoid becoming one, the following tips have proven to be effective measures for boosting cybersecurity.
Recovering Your Identity and Limiting the Damage
In response to their breach, Equifax is offering complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring. While this is hardly a comprehensive solution, this can at least help prevent fraudulent activity and notify you in real-time if it does occur. You can learn if your sensitive information is at risk and enroll by going here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com
If you’re already seeing suspicious activity with any of your accounts, it’s important to act quickly. Follow these steps to alert the proper authorities that your identity has been stolen:
- Call your credit card companies immediately. Explain what happened, and ask where to send a copy of the police report.
- File a police report and make several copies
- Complete a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Theft Affidavit and FTC report (call 1-887-ID-THEFT to request the forms).
- Call your bank. They can place an alert on your Driver’s License number and Social Security Number, and freeze your account.
- Call the fraud units of the three credit report agencies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion)
One final measure that can be effective in protecting your identity and preventing anyone from opening new accounts in your name is to place a “freeze” on your credit file with all 3 credit bureaus. Doing this prevents businesses from issuing any new credit in your name unless you’ve contacted the bureaus to authorize the release of your information. The primary downside is you may be required to pay a $5-10 fee each time you either place or remove the freeze with one of the bureaus. Equifax is currently waiving all fees for the next few months, but the other 2 bureaus are not.
Taking a Proactive Approach to Cybersecurity
While there’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate the risk of identity theft, there are some steps you can take to make it prohibitively difficult for criminals. This includes using two-factor authentication with banking and social media sites whenever possible. It’s also recommended that you change passwords frequently and avoid using the same password across multiple websites. Furthermore, you should avoid entering any sensitive information into Websites that do not encrypt your connection.
Another vigilant approach is to continuously monitor your accounts and bank statements for any suspicious activity. While credit monitoring services can alert you of any potential red flags, reviewing your purchases is more effective for quickly identifying fraudulent activity. And as a positive by-product, you can also become more aware of where your money goes each month and confirm your current budget is compatible with your long-term goals.
Finally, many homeowners are unaware that you can add an identity theft protection coverage endorsement to your existing home insurance policy. This coverage reimburses certain expenses associated with identity recovery and restoration such as stolen funds, lost wages and attorney fees. This is usually less expensive than a credit monitoring service, although it’s meant to compensate you after the fact and does nothing to proactively curb the threat of identity theft.
The Bottom Line
Breaches have become the norm as organizations have out of date systems that leave information vulnerable. Traditional defenses that worked in the past, such as firewalls and antivirus software, can now be exploited by hackers for potential security holes and entry points. Given the sheer number of recent data breaches, it’s likely that your personal information could already be at risk.
The best way to exercise caution is to continuously keep an eye on your credit. Consumers are allowed one free credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies every year. Be sure to take advantage of this law by regularly checking your credit reports for any discrepancies.
- Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Nicole Perlroth “How Many Times Has Your Personal Information Been Exposed to Hackers?” (September 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/29/technology/personaltech/what-parts-of-your-information-have-been-exposed-to-hackers-quiz.html
Advisory Services offered through Larson Financial Group, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through Larson Financial Securities, LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC.