Consumer bombshell: How to handle Equifax breach, avoid cybercriminals
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – On September 7, credit reporting agency Equifax dropped a consumer bombshell.
Cybercriminals have gained access to the personal information of as many as 143 million Americans between May and July – about 44 percent of the U.S. population. The culprits were able to retrieve roughly 209,000 credit card numbers, in addition to many Social Security and driver’s license numbers.
"Once this information has been breached, it can be costly -- in both time and money -- to repair," said Larry A. Harvey, founder and chief executive officer of HFG Wealth Management. "This type of security breach affects applications for personal credit, mortgages and car loans. You may even incorrectly be added to travel-ban lists. There really is no area that identity theft does not potentially impact."
HFG Wealth Management answers some questions about the Equifax breach and suggests simple steps you can take to protect yourself.
How can I find out if I was affected?
Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com. Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.
What additional protective steps can I take?
Check your credit reports now, unless you have already done so in the past month. You can get one free credit report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Scrutinize your credit card and bank account statements for unfamiliar activity, and sign up for email or text alerts offered by your bank or credit card issuer(s).
Freeze your credit. A security freeze, also called a credit freeze, locks your credit file at each bureau with a special PIN that only you know. That PIN must be used in order for anyone to access your credit file, or add new credit in your name. Different from credit monitoring offered by credit bureaus and companies that simply notify you of potential fraud or a credit breach, this stops identity theft from happening.
You can do this by using the following phone numbers and links:
What do I need to know about passwords?
Consider changing the password for your main email account. A weak password is easy for a cyber-crook to hurdle – and once hurdled, that person could potentially pose as you to change passwords on your financial accounts.
Regarding bank, investment, and credit card account passwords, avoid the obvious. Too many people use simple passwords based on their pet’s name, their last name and year of birth, the high school they attended, etc. These same simple facts are often answers to security questions for credit card and bank accounts.
Ask your bank or credit card issuer if you can use additional, random words or a PIN for passwords or security question answers. That way, you can avoid logging in using data that is in the public record. You want your password to be long and random, to make it harder for a would-be thief to guess.
What should I do if Equifax contacts me directly?
If someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be from Equifax, do not cooperate with them. Unless Equifax is returning your call, they will not contact you by phone. The same applies if you get a random, unsolicited email or text from “Equifax” – do not comply, or you may inadvertently hand over personal information to a fraudster.
Who should I contact for detailed information?
Reach out to your financial advisor for detailed information that pertains specifically to you. The information in this article is not legal advice. That being said, HFG Wealth is available for consultation and more information at your convenience. We encourage all residents of Montgomery County and surrounding areas to remain vigilant, today and in the future.