Equifax Data Breach
With assessment and cleanup underway from Hurricane Irma and the cleanup from Hurricane Harvey continuing, we want to send our best wishes and prayers to our friends and clients affected by these storms.
This past weekend, amongst the hurricane coverage, you may have heard about the massive data breach at Equifax Inc., which is one of the three main credit reporting companies. The breach exposed Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license information and other important data affecting roughly 143 million people in the United States, as well as some people in Canada and the United Kingdom[i]. Identity thieves utilize the stolen data to open credit accounts, file tax returns, buy property and cars, and possibly access investment and bank accounts[ii].
We wanted to alert you to this in case you hadn’t heard and provide advice on how to respond. Identity theft and credit fraud can be an eye-opening, time consuming, scary topic, but an informed consumer armed with the most effective prevention measures will be the best way to make sure it does not happen to you.
Here are a few options on what you can do now to prevent someone from using your data:
View your credit reports for free at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three big agencies once every 12 months. Review it closely for unauthorized accounts or any mistakes.
Place a 90-day security fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts are warning flags on your credit report notifying the creditors that they should contact you before issuing new credit[iii]. However, creditors are permitted to and can issue credit anyway—so it’s not foolproof.
Place a credit freeze on your credit report so that the creditor cannot review your credit history and thus may not issue new credit. This option, however, comes with some downsides. While the freeze stops thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name, it also prevents you from opening new accounts. Each time you apply for a credit card, mortgage or loan, you will need to lift the freeze from each credit agency a few days beforehand. A credit freeze can be done online at the websites of the three credit reporting agencies -- Equifax , Experian and TransUnion . You'll need to freeze all three reports for the best protection. Each company will give you a code that you'll need again in order to lift the freeze, so keep it in a safe place.
Consider a credit monitoring service which will alert you as often as daily to changes in your credit report, usually for a monthly fee[iv] . Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for a year. The company says the service will search suspicious sites for your Social Security number, give you access to your Equifax report and other offerings. You can sign up at equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on ENROLL at the bottom of the screen[v]. The deadline to do so is November 21, 2017. A popular comprehensive credit monitoring service, https://www.LifeLock.com (1-800-LifeLock), is a fee service that helps to prevent, protect and defend against fraud, theft, and identify theft.
Other useful measures to prevent against Identify theft[vi]:
Monitor bank and credit card accounts regularly.
Request electronic delivery of your credit, bank, and brokerage account statements—thus reducing the amount of sensitive information in your mailbox for thieves to steal.
Shred all documents that contain personal information before placing in the trash.
Do not carry in your wallet or purse as many credit cards and other documents, like your social security card, that are not used as often.
Photocopy or take a picture with your iPhone the front and back of EVERYTHING in your wallet or purse so you can immediately know what you had and who to contact if your wallet or purse is stolen.
Secure online accounts with difficult passwords that include not only upper and lower case letters, but also numbers, and special characters. You can also create a phrase such as “Igotothestoreandpaywith$”. Remember to change passwords often, and keep a password list in a secure place.
Update anti-virus, firewall and spyware software regularly.
Never give out personal information over email.
Substitute your driver’s license number for your Social Security number whenever possible.
Only work with reputable on-line companies.
Do not give out your child’s Social Security number unless required.
Password-protect your computer in case it is stolen, especially laptop computers. Encrypt all hard drive data and emails that you send.
Back-up all personal data on your computer in case it is stolen, lost, or the hard drive becomes damaged. www.Carbonite.com is an online back-up service to protect your electronic documents, videos, and photos.
Resources that may be of assistance in the future:
Federal Trade Commission www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Identify Theft Resource Center www.idtheftcenter.org
We hope you find this information helpful. As your financial fiduciary, the Leshnak Wealth Team cares deeply about your financial well-being, including offering reliable advice or direction on all financial matters. As always, we will monitor for rebalancing opportunities that may add value to your portfolio, or to be defensive as conditions might warrant. Please call with questions on the Equifax Data Breach, or if you wish to discuss your specific portfolio in greater detail.
–Bob Leshnak, September 12, 2017
“The referral from a client is a tremendous compliment and a huge responsibility that can never be taken lightly.” –Anonymous
The investment decisions are those of Robert M. Leshnak, Jr., CLU, ChFC, CFP®, MS, EA as of 9/12/2017 and are subject to change. The information contained herein is only intended for Leshnak Wealth clients invested in the Leshnak Wealth Portfolio Models. No forecasts or recommendations are guaranteed. The technical data utilized as part of the investment decisions does not guarantee future positive results. Performance, especially for short periods of time, should not be the sole factor in making investment decisions. The information contained herein does not constitute client specific investment advice or take into account a specific client’s particular investment objectives, strategies, tax status, resources, or investment time horizon. No investment strategy such as asset allocation, diversification, tactically overweighting sectors, or utilizing fundamental and technical analysis can always assure a profit, nor always protect against a loss. The information presented is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or financial planning advice. The payment of dividends is not guaranteed. Companies may reduce or eliminate the payment of dividends at any given time. Investing involves risks in regard to all of the investment products mentioned in this commentary, including the potential loss of principal. International investing involves additional risks including risks associated to foreign currency, limited liquidity, government regulation, and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic, and other developments. The two main risks associated with fixed income investing are interest rate and credit risk. Typically, when interest rates rise, there is a corresponding decline in the market value of bonds. Credit risk refers to the possibility that the insurer of the bond will not be able to make principal and interest payments. Investments in commodities may entail significant risks and can be significantly affected by events such as variations in the commodities markets, weather, diseases, embargoes, international, political, and economic developments, the success of exploration projects, tax and other government regulations as well as other factors. Indexes are unmanaged and investors are not able to invest directly into any index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Please not that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information presented here should only be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.
[i] Andriotis, AnnaMaria, “Equifax Complaints Keep Growing”; The Wall Street Journal, Monday, September 11th, 2017.
[ii] https://www.Lifelock.com and www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
[iii] Dalton, Richard J., Jr. Consumer Watch: Putting a freeze on your credit report A new weapon to fight identify theft isn’t foolproof, but it could help. Newsday. All Editions; July 22, 2007, pg.1.