Identity theft has taken center stage as the details unfold from one of the largest data breaches to date. Affecting more than 143 million Americans, Equifax explains that hackers invaded their system from mid-May through July, stealing sensitive information such as names, social security numbers and driver’s license numbers. It is estimated that credit card numbers for 209,000 people have been compromised. If you have ever applied for a new account or line of credit (or done anything else that requires running a credit report), then it is likely that Equifax has your information in their system since they are one of the three major credit reporting agencies.
What can a fraudster actually accomplish with the information they gathered from Equifax’s system?
- Open accounts in your name
- Open credit lines in your name – mortgages, refinancing, etc.
- Purchase items with your credit card number
- File false tax returns on your social security number
Tips you can take to protect against identity theft:
- Check your credit reports – http://www.annualcreditreport.com/
- If there are any accounts or activities listed that you do not recognize, it may indicate you are a victim of identity theft.
- An annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies is available for free.
- Visit https://identitytheft.gov/ if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your files.
- This will only prevent thieves from opening new accounts, but will not protect your existing accounts.
- Credit freezes must be done separately at each of the three major reporting agencies.
- Take this step with great care! This locks your credit report files to all applications, so it is not a good option if you plan to shop for an auto or home loan in the near future.
- There are varying costs per state and per credit reporting agency for freezing your credit and temporarily lifting the freeze. However, it is always free to remove the freeze.
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your files.
- This warns creditors that an applicant may be an identity theft victim, requiring them to verify that the applicant is the correct person before obtaining the credit report.
- Fraud alerts must be done separately at each of the three major reporting agencies.
- There are a few types of fraud alerts available:
- Initial fraud alert: 90 day alert available for non-identity theft victims whom have lost or compromised personal information or account information.
- Extended fraud alert: 7 year alert available for victims of identity theft.
- Active duty alert: 1 year alert available for deployed military personal.
- Monitor your existing credit cards and bank accounts at least weekly, if not more often.
- Thieves tend to start with smaller purchases to ensure the account is valid. They can rack up significant purchases very quickly once they know it works.
- File your taxes as early as possible.
- Once a return has been filed under your social security number, it is less likely that a false claim will make it through.
- Consider a membership to Identity Theft Protection.
- Click link here for the comparison chart for more details.
- Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring, but it is very likely that thieves will retain your information and begin to use it once that time has expired.
- Avoid accessing your accounts while on public computers or networks (such as airport Wi-Fi, hotels, etc.).
- Do not reply to an email asking for account information or sensitive personal information.
- Avoid clicking on embedded links or attachments in emails from unknown senders.
- Generally, you can hover over a link to see the true URL.
At Rowland Carmichael, we strive to take the necessary precautions to keep your personal information safe. Some of the ways we do this include:
- Password protection on our technology interfaces (and dual authentication where available) such as computers, network, custodial sites, contact manager system and internet portals.
- Password protection when sending sensitive personal information through email, as well as further use of transferring sensitive documents through our secure Client Portal.
- Only acting on email instructions after verbal verification with you by phone or in person.
- Shredding all papers that contain sensitive personal information.
Our custodians also have procedures in place to help reduce the likelihood of a breach or fraudulent activity. Some of the ways they do so include:
- Never sending you emails requesting account numbers, usernames, passwords, or other personal information.
- Utilizing firewalls to keep unauthorized parties from obtaining personal information and to alert of any unusual behavior in the accounts.
- Offering dual authentication for login credentials (Charles Schwab).
- Security Guarantee: 100% coverage for any losses in your Charles Schwab account due to unauthorized activity (Charles Schwab).
- Blocking access to the account until client or advisor verification has been obtained if suspicious activity is detected (TD Ameritrade).
Identity theft is rising. Though inconvenient, we strongly urge you to take precautionary steps to avoid becoming a victim. If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please feel free to reach out to your wealth manager.