Tip Content Provided By: Financial Finesse
In case you haven’t heard, credit reporting bureau Equifax announced that 143 million Americans’ financial information was hacked this summer, putting about half of us at risk of identity theft. (to find out if you’re one in 143 million, start here) It was only a matter of time before one of the credit bureaus was hacked — I have to say I’m not entirely surprised.
There have been lots of rumors swirling around whether or not the Equifax “fix” is something you should sign up for and whether or not it’s enough. The short answer is that yes, you should sign up since the concerning clause about giving up certain legal rights has been removed (more on that here), but no, it’s probably still not enough to ensure you’re safe from future issues around identity theft. Besides, even if you’re one of the lucky ones whose information wasn’t lifted, chances are it was in another breach over the past couple years.
Here are 4 more things you can do to hopefully secure yourself against future issues:
- Check your credit report right now — You can access your free reports from all 3 credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com, or if you’ve already checked all three within the past year, use a free service like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma to at least see if there’s anything fishy with your credit score. If so, you may want to pay to have another credit report pulled to see what’s causing the issue in case it’s due to identity theft. (note that the Equifax service will provide you with a copy of their report)
- File your taxes ASAP — One way that hackers use your SSN and other personal information is to file fake tax returns on your behalf to collect big refunds. In this scheme, the hackers are actually stealing from the IRS using your information, so you’re not out any money, but it can cause you IRS headaches if they use your information to do so because the onus is on you to prove that the tax return YOU’RE trying to file is the correct version. If you’ve already filed your return and a hacker tries to file a fake one, their scheme will be blocked.
- Consider placing a credit freeze — This isn’t free, but this is the best way to simply lock down your credit so that no new accounts are opened using your info. The problem is that when you’re ready to open an account or apply for a mortgage, for example, you have to have it lifted, which also costs money. Credit monitoring services and fraud alert systems are a bit more reactive, but they’re free.
- Check all your accounts going back to May, then make it a habit — One thing that’s extremely frustrating about massive hacks like this is that there’s always a delay in reporting it while the legal team works to cover their butts and the PR team gears up for the onslaught. The Equifax leak was open from mid-May through July, and yet we aren’t learning about this until September. In the meantime, who knows what’s happened with our personal information. It’s worth your time to review all your accounts to make sure there aren’t any errant transactions that you should report. Going forward, make it at least a monthly habit to look at each transaction to make sure it’s valid. I actually check my 3 main accounts as part of my morning routine — I check texts, then email, then Instagram, then Snapchat, then my checking account and credit cards.
If you find any issues
- If you find fraudulent charges on your credit or debit card, report it to the bank immediately. It’s not uncommon for banks to have a 60 day window for reporting fraud — as long as you’re within that window, they’ll do all the work to get it fixed. (a big reason to check your accounts regularly)
- If the problem extends to someone using your identity to open new accounts or file tax returns, then the steps you need to take are more extensive. The FTC has a great website that covers all the scenarios, so start there.
In the meantime, make sure you’re still staying vigilant by protecting your information to the best of your ability. These tips from a former con man can help.
Have a financial question? Send it to Ask Financial Finesse.