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Friday, October 13, 2017

A personal how-to guide to responding to the Equifax hack

How to protect yourself from identity theft and internet fraud
By Will Collette

This was the result when I plugged in my last name and last 6 digits
of my Social Security number into Equifax's "are you affected?"
database. So this "incident" affects me personally, along with more
than half of all American consumers.
More than half of all American adults have had critical personal information stolen in the recently revealed Equifax hack.

I am one of them and so are five members of my immediate family.

The stolen information includes Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit history and just about anything a cyber-crook might need to steal your identity or rob you electronically.

I’ve been reading the various advisories about what to do.

The first batch of stories exposed ways that Equifax itself sought to profit from its own security failure by tricking consumers into buying services and signing away their rights.

That exposure stopped Equifax’s trickery in its tracks.

So now we can focus on what YOU should do about this threat.

According to a financial expert I trust, first you should find out if your name is on the list of people whose personal information was hacked. 

Equifax has a dedicated website to help consumers determine if their information has been potentially impacted. If you follow the link and enter the information, it will tell you if your information has been stolen and offer free credit monitoring. 

If you are told your information has been stolen, you should sign up for the one year of free credit monitoring. You do not have to give credit card information so you will not be locked into their service. 

Frankly, I have minimal trust in Equifax. I also suspect Equifax will probably be required to extend the monitoring time by a lot to settle the many lawsuits that have been filed as a result of this breech.

You can sign on to the Equifax free monitoring service even if your name is NOT on the list. After all, why trust Equifax to give you the right answer after all that has happened? 

Whether you are on the Equifax list of hacked clients are not, this is a good time to adopt some prudent self-defense measures.

Many financial institutions offer you ways to set up warnings and alerts to let you know anytime some key pieces of information or activities take place within your account.

Look for “preferences” or “settings” on the website of any institution holding your money. You should be able to set up your preferences you are alerted anytime there is a money transfer request (in or out), a change to your phone, e-mail or physical address, a password reset, a new external bank account added or a new device or browser log-on.

Also set up alerts for any unusual activity, like for example, if your credit card is being used in some foreign country or huge purchases of easily fenced goods.

Monitor your credit and check your transactions on a regular basis for suspicious activity. Everyone is entitled to a free credit report every year under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act). The ONLY official source is annualcreditreport.com.

There are also a variety of commercial identity theft services offered to you on a subscription basis.

None of these actually PREVENT your identity from being stolen. Use the steps laid up earlier to reduce that risk.

These are services that can help you after the fact. As the reviewers at Reviews.Com put it
The best identity theft protection services can add value through the breadth of their monitoring (aka both credit and personal info) and their ability to use power of attorney to help restore your identity. In order to discover the top services out there, Reviews.com signed up for several accounts and read a lot of fine print to see which services deliver.
To be clear: Identity theft protection services don’t actually protect anything. They’re a combination of monitoring and recovery, not an invisible shield around your Social Security number. So while they can’t decrease your chances of becoming a victim, they’ll alert you when something goes awry and help you clean up the mess.
They gave us permission to publish a summary of their reviews of the leading commercial services. 

The following comes from Reviews.com.

Reviews.com researched 18 different companies based on a number of criteria.

Reviews.com eliminated any service that:

  • Doesn’t monitor changes to your credit reports at all three credit bureaus.
  • Doesn’t monitor the use of your personally identifying information online.
And also evaluated services based upon:

  • How they alert you to suspicious activity and potential fraud.
  • How much legwork they do as to help you legally reclaim your identity.
Their final review identifies four top choices:

In addition, the research offers additional information on other important aspects of identity theft. 

For example, identity protection services cannot always protect against tax-related identity theft or medical identity theft, and there are alternative steps one should take in order to fortify their data security in those aspects (included in the article). If you have your identity stolen, or your information is threatened, Reviews.com also provides steps to Take Action now.