On July 29, 2017, Equifax, one of the three major US credit reporting agencies, discovered a major data breach of their servers. This cyber hack impacted an estimated 143 million US consumers. That’s roughly half of all American adults! The information accessed by hackers includes names, addresses, social security numbers, birth dates, and in some cases, driver’s licenses and credit card numbers. The fact that it took Equifax over five weeks to make this public is equally upsetting.
The seriousness of this breach and the potential harm by criminals intent on committing fraud and identity theft cannot be overstated. These security leaks have sadly become all too common; and they likely won’t end anytime soon. Therefore, it’s critical all Americans remain vigilant and take steps to protect their personal information, their identities, and mitigate their risk of being victims of fraud.
Here are some things you can do to protect your personal information:
- Despite Equifax publishing a website to verify whether you’ve been affected and their offer of credit monitoring, many cybersecurity experts have advised NOT to utilize Equifax’s website!
- Check your credit reports via the free Annual Credit Report Request Service at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
- Review regularly your information reported on credit reports. Investigate credit inquiries which do not look familiar.
- Continuously monitor your financial accounts to identify suspicious activity. Since cyber criminals are patient, they may wait several months until they believe you’ve let your guard down, before using your data.
- Be cautious of phishing attacks, where cyber criminals send you an email or even call you posing as one of your trusted financial institutions. These emails will ask you to provide sensitive and personal information under the guise of protecting you from the Equifax breach. NEVER provide information to anyone who has contacted you. Delete the email, or hang up. Then contact the financial institution directly.
- Consider filing Fraud Alerts with all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union). This will inform creditors to be extra cautious before approving new accounts. Creditors will be required to contact you directly before any credit is extended. Note that fraud alerts must be renewed every 90 days.
- A stronger action would be filing Credit Freezes with the three credit bureaus. Keep in mind; this will prevent anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name – including YOU.
- If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, learn more on how to protect yourself at IDTheftCenter.org, or call 888-400-5530.
At Mortgage Wealth Advisors, we regard information security with sobering seriousness. We’ve implemented several steps to ensure the privacy of our clients’ personal information. As required by federal and state law, we maintain a robust Information Security Policy. It’s all part of the personal care and concierge experience we provide to our family of clients.
Warren Goldberg is President of Mortgage Wealth Advisors, a Certified Mortgage Planning Specialist®, and a published author. His interviews include Blog-Talk Radio, Newsday, The Daily News, Anton Press, and the Long Island Herald. Since 1992, he’s been sharing his financial knowledge and wealth-building strategies, including how to properly use your mortgage as a financial tool. His clients regularly express their trust and appreciation by recommending friends and family call when in need of mortgage, real estate, and financial guidance.