By now you've almost certainly heard the news of the massive Equifax hack and data breach. We know you probably have a lot of questions, so we wanted to provide some guidance during this confusing time.
Assume Your Data Has Been Compromised
It's probably best to assume that you are one of the roughly 143 million Americans impacted by this incident. Due to the somewhat unique nature of Equifax's business, there's a good chance they have some of your data, even if you've never given it to them directly. Even if you have already visited the website Equifax established (https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/) to let you check if you were impacted, your results may not be reliable.
Numerous outlets have reported problems with the system, including instances where the same person, putting in the exact same data, has received conflicting messages. Other reports indicate that even randomly entered data is often resulting in a "we believe you may have been impacted" result. Since there seems to be no way to tell with 100% certainty whether or not some or all of your data has been stolen, we believe it's best to err on the side of caution.
What's the Deal With This Equifax TrustedID Premier Thing They Want me to Join?
If you go to the website noted above and are told that you may be a victim of the data breach, Equifax will offer you a free year of its TrustedID Premiere service. Unfortunately, if your data was stolen, criminals could try using it for many years, if not decades to come. Here are some other things to know about Equifax's TrustedID Premiere service:
"Again, to be as clear as possible, we will not apply any arbitration clause or class action waiver against consumers for claims related to the free products offered in response to the cybersecurity incident or for claims related to the cybersecurity incident itself."
For more information about TrustedID Premier, you can visit this ink: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/trustedid-premier/
What Should you do Now?
Sad to say, but in today's modern era, it is really not a matter of if your personal data will be stolen, but rather, when it will be stolen. What makes the Equifax hack so troubling compared to most breaches, however, is the sheer volume and depth of data that hackers were able to acquire.
With that in mind, and just as a matter of good practice, here are some steps you can consider taking now to help you protect your credit:
1. Freeze Your Credit
If you are not planning on seeking new credit in the near future, this is probably your best option. Placing a freeze on your credit will prevent anyone from accessing your credit report. Unfortunately, that includes potential lenders that you actually want to have access to your data!
Thinking about getting a new credit card (including one of those cards cashiers sometimes encourage to get a big discount on a purchase), taking out a mortgage, leasing or purchasing a car with a loan? All of those will likely be impossible while you have your credit frozen. Sometimes prospective employers or landlords will also want to take a look at your credit as part of their decision making process. And while it's true that you can unfreeze your credit if you actually want to allow a company access, it can be a pain in the neck to do so and, depending on where you live, you could incur fees to do so. But if you have no plans on doing anything in the near future that would require access to your credit, this seems like a good option.
There are three main credit agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), as well as a fourth smaller one you've probably never heard of called Innovis. If you're going to go the route of a freeze, it's probably best to lock all four. To do so, you can visit their websites, or, if you prefer, you can call them. Be forewarned though, due to overwhelming volume, consumers have reported major problems with both options.
When you freeze your account, you'll be given a PIN number. Make sure to store this in a safe place, because you'll need it if you ever need to unlock (un-freeze) your account.
2. Set up a Fraud Alert
If you're planning on doing something that will require access to your credit soon, or you don't want to pay the potential credit freeze fees, you might want to consider setting up a fraud alert on your account. A fraud alert does not prevent access to your credit file, but it does let anyone looking at your file know that you may be victim of identity theft, which should prompt them to do some extra security checks before issuing you (or a criminal posing as you) any new credit. The hope is that those extra checks are either enough to discover a fraudster, or to do enough to encourage the fraudster to move on elsewhere.
In general, fraud alerts last just 90 days, at which time you can reinitiate them for another 90-day stretch. However, if you are called up to active duty, you may be eligible for an alert lasting one year. And in the unfortunate event your credit is abused by a criminal and you receive an Identity Theft Report from police, you may be eligible for an "extended fraud alert" of seven years.
3. Consider Purchasing a Theft Protection Service
If you want to take an additional step to help safeguard your data, you may want to purchase a subscription to an identity theft protection service. The most popular of these is probably LifeLock, but there are other alternatives as well. Many of the services offered by LifeLock and its competitors are included in the TrustedID Premiere service that Equifax is offering victims for free, but after the recent hacking incident, you have to question whether you want to further trust Equifax with protecting your identity.
Additionally, certain theft protection services will actually help you fix credit issues that arise, as opposed to just monitoring your credit and alerting you to problems that you are then left to fix on your own.Some companies, such as Experian, are also offering free "dark web" scans that can help you determine if any of your information has been made available in to criminals online.
As always, we are here to help you in any way we can. In the coming weeks and months, we will be providing you with further guidance if, and when it becomes available. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to our team.
The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but is not necessarily complete and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. No representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to the fairness, accuracy, completeness, or correctness of the information and opinions contained herein. The views and the other information provided are subject to change without notice. All commentary issued is without regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific recipient and are not to be construed as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any securities or related financial instruments, nor should this commentary be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by BluePrint Wealth Alliance, LLC. Nothing on this website constitutes investment, tax, or legal advice.
Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future results. Company fundamentals and earnings may be mentioned occasionally, but should not be construed as a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold the company’s stock. Predictions, forecasts, and estimates for any and all markets should not be construed as recommendations to buy, sell, or hold any security–including mutual funds, futures contracts, and exchange traded funds, or any similar instruments.
Please read all disclosures located by following the Disclosures link on the bottom of this page.