We partner with our clients on their financial journey throughout their lives. Lately, that journey has unfortunately included the data breaches at companies with sensitive information about our clients. Most recently, the large credit agency, Equifax, reported that over 143 million U.S. citizens had their Social Security numbers, birthdates and other private information exposed to hackers. The following are guidelines to help you respond appropriately. Equifax has set up a website for determining if you were affected (http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com). Whether or not you were affected in this particular breach, it is important to protect yourself and your family against future data breaches and identity theft.
The first line of defense in today’s world where personal information is routinely compromised is credit monitoring. There are numerous services that proactively monitor your credit at all three credit agencies (for a fee) and alert you to potentially fraudulent activity.
If you decide against paying a third-party monitoring service, you can take certain precautions yourself with the three major credit reporting agencies – Transunion, Equifax and Experian.
- Free annual credit reports. You are entitled by federal law to a free credit report every 12 months. You can access your free credit report through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here. (https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/ how-do-i-get-a-copy-of-my-credit-reports-en-5/)
- Fraud Alerts – A precaution notifying lenders to contact you and verify your identity before approving any new credit application in your name. There is no charge for adding a fraud alert to your credit report, however the initial fraud alert only lasts for 90 days, but may be renewed for an additional 90. If you are the victim of identity theft, you may apply for a seven-year extension of this protection. Placing a fraud alert with one credit reporting company will notify the others to add alerts.
- Security (or Credit) Freeze – The next level of protection requires you to contact each of the three credit companies individually. Your credit report can only be released on your authorization via a security code/PIN. Companies that you have previously authorized to access your credit report (credit card, mortgage lenders, etc.) can still access your credit data. All three charge for this, although Equifax has agreed to waive fees for all freezes initiated by November 21, 2017. Otherwise charges are minimal. Freezes stay in place for seven years (with renewal options), or until you lift them, which also costs a nominal fee.
- Credit Lock – functions like a credit freeze, but with additional features. Essentially you control access to your credit data by instantly locking and unlocking your account online at each of the credit agencies when you want to allow a legitimate credit inquiry. This option can be cumbersome as you must access three different websites each time you want to allow a company access to your credit report. A credit lock costs both money and time, but allows you to control your credit data.
Unfortunately, each of the above strategies require time and effort. We see the increased incidence of data breaches at major corporations as a warning to all of us that we live in a world requiring diligence in protecting our personal data. When it comes to cybersecurity, each one of us bears responsibility to protect ourselves and families. Simple steps you can take include frequently changing your passwords to your email and sensitive web sites such as financial institutions and changing default passwords on your home WiFi router. Many financial institutions now offer two-factor sign-in authentication using an additional PIN or other code which offers much tighter security. Two-factor authentication is required to access our systems here at Denver Investments. Please share this information with friends and relatives, and if you have questions please feel free to contact your portfolio manager.