If it feels like 2017 is a banner year for cyberattacks, that’s because it is. And the hits will likely keep coming.
The recently reported Equifax data breach, affecting more than 145 million American consumers whose personal information was stolen between mid-May and the end of July 2017, has many people upset and worried. Rightly so. What can we do about this unfortunate and not isolated event?
Setting aside for now the larger national discussion of how credit data is collected and reported, to whom and why – which are both philosophical and now hopefully policy matters for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and others – here are steps we can each take to safeguard our most private financial data.
- Freeze or lock your profiles with each of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. The advantage is clear – anyone impersonating you in an attempt to fraudulently open new credit accounts will be thwarted. Disadvantages include that often you have to pay the bureau to both free/lock and then unfreeze/unlock your profiles (Equifax appears to be offering this service for free to affected individuals for now). You may also have to call ahead to the particular credit card holder if you’re going to make an unusual purchase so that the charge is approved. Alternately, you can put a fraud alert on your profiles at each of the three bureaus. The alert requires the bureaus to contact you personally, generally with a call to the phone number you designate, before any new accounts can be opened. This is a more surgical approach and is a free service. You’ll need to place the alert again after it expires, in several to six months, depending on the bureau.
- File your annual income taxes early. Identity thieves sometimes sit on your personal information and then use it to file a false return indicating a large refund due. If you’ve already filed quickly after the filing period opens each year, you’ll pre-empt this from happening. Some people choose to pay the bureaus or third party credit watch companies a monthly fee to monitor your credit profile for you. On the one hand, you may feel safe with a constant flow of updates, and it’s more hands-off for you. On the other hand, your data isn’t necessarily safer this way (it’s still there in the bureaus and with your creditors and banks who are themselves sometimes hacked). If you’re paying a third party to do this, now their computers systems have your personal data, and they are themselves subject to ever more inventive hacks. With a close look at your monthly asset and credit account statements, you can perform for free much of what these services charge you to do.
Here’s a link to the FTC’s website for more information: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Info-Lost-or-Stolen
For more questions about credit profiles, how they impact mortgage financing, and general mortgage matters, please contact Julia Demeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Melissa Milton at email@example.com.