On July 29, 2017, the world could have used a cyber superhero to save millions of Equifax customers from an Equifax security breach. Data items such as social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and credit card information were exposed – stolen! – through a vulnerability introduced in a patching process for a website application. This type of data exposure from a major credit reporting agency’s system will likely affect its victims for years.
Are You a Victim of Equifax Cyber Villains?
Put on your cape and visit the Equifax website immediately – if you haven’t already done so – to determine if you are one of the estimated 143 million victims of the Equifax hack. Equifax is providing a list of people whose information was exposed, as well as several free resources and tools such as a FAQ page and a dedicated help-line (866.447.7559). If you determine you are potentially impacted by the breach, there are three things you can do to protect yourself and to quickly harness the powers of fraud protection:
- Fight your cyber foes by setting up fraud alerts with Equifax and the other major credit reporting agencies, Experian and TransUnion. You will be sent a phone, email, or text notification when someone tries to open an account in your name.
- Consider registering for a lifetime of free protection through the Equifax website. The deadline to receive this benefit is November 21, 2017. Registering does not force you to “opt-out” of a future class action suit, and no credit card information is required.
- Call superhero “The Freeze” to stop future credit applications. Freezing your credit files can stop further attempts to obtain credit. Be aware that this actually does freeze your credit, so you would need to at least briefly “un-freeze” your credit to process credit applications (e.g., for a mortgage loan or a car loan). Freezing credit files has no impact whatsoever on a person’s existing lines of credit, such as credit cards.
You can freeze your credit using any of the three primary credit reporting agencies, although you typically cannot freeze and subscribe to credit monitoring services. State-by-state credit freeze advice is available.
Who is the Right Superhero to Help Protect You from Cyber Thieves?
If you are a victim of the Equifax breach, then knowing where to look for cyber thieves is one of the first steps to stopping them from using your identity to steal your money. Below are three of their sneakier targets and the heroes you can call for help.
- Tax Returns.
Social security numbers were among the data exposed in the Equifax hack, which is the primary element cyber villains need to submit fraudulent tax returns and snag refunds—sometimes delivered to their front doors!Your Hero: Your CPA! Accountants can be your heroes in this scenario, as they can get to work quickly with year-end tax planning to help you file quickly with your real tax returns. Any additional filings will immediately be flagged by the IRS.
Follow the IRS’ advice, “file first and beat the crooks.” Tax planning can be the key to filing early.
Cyber thieves who have your information from the Equifax breach (or by other means) may attempt to access your retirement plan account statements and steal that money by making withdrawals or taking out loans against your account.
Your Hero: Your Employer! Your employer can be your hero in this scenario. They can make sure your retirement plan’s third-party administrators are scanning regularly for fraudulent activity.
- Banks and credit cards.
Cyber thieves may attempt to steal directly from your banking accounts, use credit cards already established, or set-up new credit cards using your stolen personal information.Your Hero: YOU! It would be great if the banks and credit card companies could come to the rescue and prevent such crimes, but the most effective hero to stopping these thefts is you, the potential victim. Regularly check your personal information, finances, and accounts for suspicious or fraudulent activity. You may also consider checking your credit reports periodically.
The three major credit reporting agencies will each provide one free credit report per person annually, so space them out over of the course of the next twelve months for continuous protection.
Kapow! Protecting Yourself from Cyber Villains You Haven’t Met
Whether or not you are a victim of the Equifax breach, you can still harness the power now to prevent personal identity theft, fight your cyber foes, and beat them at their own games. It is never a bad time to unearth your inner-hero and start protecting yourself!
Awareness and caution can be key. Whenever you are sharing or accessing your personal information, be on alert – armed with Kryptonite! – for suspicious characters. Change your passwords often, and keep your computer’s malware updated. In particular, be wary of phishing e-mails and phone calls. The bad guys will leverage these schemes for all they’re worth over the next 12 months, so be quick to delete and report emails or phone calls that claim they need your personal information to correct “problems.” Also, do not click on email attachments from these agencies — even superheroes can’t provide protection from those types of attackers!
If a bank or agency calls or emails you, then ignore it and return the call using the phone number from your credit card or statement or using a number you find.
It’s a Bird…. It’s a Plane… It’s Cybersecurity!
The world may always need heroes to combat cyber villains against whatever new scheme they’ve created to steal other people’s identity and money. CRI can come to the rescue and help you develop a cybersecurity plan to protect your data – continuously and effectively. Contact us to learn more about our cybersecurity services and how they can impact and add value to you. Note: If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, here is a site where you can learn more about how to protect yourself: www.idtheftcenter.org. You can also call the center’s toll-free number (888.400.5530) for advice on how to resolve identify-theft issues. All of the center’s services are free.