Does the Equifax Data Breach Affect You – Probably!

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

September 19, 2017 — Last week we found out that one of the nation’s largest credit monitoring services, Equifax, had been hacked. The credit records of 143 million Americans were compromised, including in most cases their social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, credit ratings and sometimes a lot more – basically the keys to the scamming kingdom. Since then the company is being investigated because there was an earlier hack not disclosed, and corporate insiders might have traded ahead of the public release of information.

If you have been wondering if you were one of those whose credit info is now available to the highest underworld bidder – yes you probably were. After all the U.S. population is 323 million, so statistically you have just under a 1 in 2 chance of being affected. This article will show how to find out for sure, and what to do.

Find out if your information was exposed
The Federal Trade Commission is providing some useful on this hack at Equifax Data Breach, What to Do. It provides a link at Equifax to where you can determine if your data was affected. Once you get there:

Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach (if you are curious, yes, your Editor’s record was breached).

Remedies
Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services from Equifax. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.

Of course if you take advantage of the Equifax free monitoring service it means you are trusting them not to blow it again. Many people have reservations about doing that.

Here are some other options the FTC is recommending:
Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.

Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You can lift the freeze if you want to apply for a new credit card or loan, and then reinstate if after you are approved.
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize. Opt for a text message alert every time your card is used.
If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS (but never phone calls, people who call you saying they are the IRS are scammers).

Other fraud tips
Unfortunately, guarding against fraud is now a full-time job in the Internet age. In other articles we provide some other ideas on how to protect yourself (see end of article).

Autopays. Putting as many of your recurring bills on autopay is a great convenience, particularly if you travel a lot or are a snowbird. A friend told us about a really great idea to dedicate a separate credit card for those payments. You never take the card out of the house, so the chances of this card getting hacked are lower. Then you can avoid the problems we have had when we had to contact and change the credit card for every one of our online payments, sometimes getting late fees along the way or declined charges. Another idea is to use autopay using ACH withdrawals from your bank account, which is less likely to get hacked.

Comments? Do you have tips on what to do about the Experian breach, or other ideas on how to avoid fraud. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Scammers Waiting to Cheat You: 5 Tips to Avoid
Pretty Confident You Won’t Be Scammed – That Could Be a Problem!
Equifax Screwed Up – Now What Do You Do?




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Posted by Admin on September 18th, 2017

19 Comments »

  1. It’s a trade-off. Doing autopay from your ACH bank account does not give you the rebates if you have them on a cash rebate credit card. I admit, it is a real pain to contact your cable company, power company, etc. etc. every time the credit card company wants to send you a new card because of fraudulent charges. But all those monthly charges add up to some real savings in rebates.

    by Dave McKay — September 20, 2017

  2. I love this “advice” as it is the same “advice” for each time our most sensitive data is “breached, or stolen, or mishandled” yet again. Until companies who force us to provide or somehow acquire this information are punished more severely; if at all – do not expect anything to change. We as customers will continue to have our information easily and quickly bought/sold or marketed to the highest bidder in exchange “for one-year of “free” credit monitoring”.

    What a bargain, I wish I was one of the thieves because if I were, I’d simply wait it out. After all, what is waiting 12-14 months to steal millions of dollars from unwitting persons who will have long forgotten about this incident in lieu of the next one.

    Until some of the criminals or corporations are made to pay for this crime, you can bet that we as customers will be the only ones that pay for it. Of course, we’ll all sleep better at night knowing we have “one year of FREE credit monitoring” – useless as it may be.

    by Alan — September 21, 2017

  3. I saw an article that said Equifax directed some of the victims to a phishing website to “protect their credit”. What a mess. I totally agree with Alan – these companies and the people stealing/using others identities are not punished, so nothing will change.

    by nancy — September 22, 2017

  4. Another scam out there is iTune cards. Scammers have different ways of creating fear. A few ways are to claim you owe the IRS or your Grandson is in jail and needs bail money. They tell you to go to a store and buy iTune cards and preload them with a certain amount of cash. They might instruct you to buy four $100 dollar cards. Once you do that then they tell you to call them or email them the 16 digit code on the back of the card and pin number. Once they have those numbers, somehow they drain the cash off or sell the codes for low prices for cash. Sometimes they even have the nerve to call back and instruct you to buy more cards for some other fees. Some people do it out of fear, other people have caught onto the scam too late. Be aware if anyone wants you to pay for anything with iTune cards! A friend of mine told me one of her coworkers was buying iTune cards and had purchased $400 worth. She has also been sending money to some ‘man’ in Africa who is also scamming her out of money. She wires it to him. He tells her he is in love with her and wants to come to USA, marry her and buy her a car and house! She is sending HIM money! Why do people fall for these scams when it is so obviously fake!

    by louise — September 23, 2017

  5. Re Equifax: It’s unclear exactly what is at risk with this breach. Are we talking new credit cards and lines of credit being fraudulently opened, existing bank accounts getting drained, existing credit cards having new fraudulent charges made on them? All of the above?

    Louise, as someone with a family member who was taken for a fair amount of money, I can tell you that eroded cognitive abilities are the biggest risk factor when it comes to falling for these scams. A story that gets dismissed as being ridiculously fake when peddled to people in their 50s seems quite plausible to those in their 80s.

    The truly frightening reality is that any of us could be victimized by a scammer – maybe not today, but what about ten years hence? These creeps are slick, relentless, and know exactly how to exploit the most vulnerable segments of our population.

    I think the best way to protect ourselves is to have a trusted family member or financial advisor watching our banking information as we get a bit older. When and how to do that is another question altogether.

    by JCarol — September 24, 2017

  6. JCarol, you are so right on with having a family member watching over banking information. My family had a caregiver who stole their identity and credit cards for over $10000. After I had to step in and manage their Financials I caught what was going on and was able to collect enough information for the police so they could take her to the district attorneys office to convict her. I was able to get most of the money reimbursed back to us but it was a very stressful situation.

    by mary11 — September 25, 2017

  7. With personal working knowledge, Equifax does not just contain financial information, but, also other detailed information about individuals. Equifax and other companies obtain daily overnight computer files of various types of information, automatically sent by various governments (city, county, state, federal, etc.) and also from private companies. For example, daily transactions of drivers license and motor vehicle information, government services applied for and used, criminal history, real estate dealings and anything else of public record and also many commercial transactions and information. Before the HEPA laws, medical information was also sent.

    In the near future, after computerized Artificial Intelligence is used using these massive databases, corporations and governments will know more about us than we know ourselves. They will be able to create a composite of each of us and predict within a high degree of probability what we will do, when we will do it, along with any type of financial, family, religious, health and political motives that makes us act and react. With DNA samples they will also predict within a high degree of probability as to what diseases we will get, when we will get them, and how long we will live up to the year and month, barring accidents. Yes, its fairly easy to predict people’s actions/reactions and be able to manipulate them when their motivators are known. Therefore, senility or dementia is not necessary for one to be unknowingly persuaded or controlled.

    The breaching of our financial information will be the least of our worries in the near future. This will be here much sooner than many of us think.

    by Alan E — September 25, 2017

  8. Alan, I had no idea that the credit reporting companies tracked such a wide swath of our personal information. The current and future scenarios you describe are terrifying to those of us who grew up in relative obscurity.

    by JCarol — September 25, 2017

  9. This makes 1984 by George Orwell look extremely passive.

    by Bubbajog — September 25, 2017

  10. Why don’t we/they just have the Social Security Admin just issue any/all citizens new (replacement) social security numbers for starters?

    by Tim Turk — September 28, 2017

  11. Good idea Tim, credit cards do it all the time!

    by louise — September 29, 2017

  12. I became the victim of identity theft in 2010. I tried fervently to get a new social security number assigned but they adamantly refused. In the ensuing 7 years, I have had someone go to Social Security and convince them they were my caregiver and have my checks diverted to them. It took me six months to convince SS, it was not me and get the money returned. The fact the perpetrators lived in a state 2000 miles from me should have been a clue. I have also had someone file an income tax return using my SS#. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a fight every day because these perpetrators are very clever and come up with things you would never expect. The one smart thing I did early on was put a security freeze on my credit accounts. That is the only thing that stopped them from setting up credit cards or buying other stuff using my data. Now days I pay cash for most everything. And, yes, I was one of the ones caught in the Equifax debacle too.

    by Sharon Alexander — September 29, 2017

  13. Sharon Alexander thank you for sharing so sorry about what happened to you. I am going to be more proactive about this on Monday. I have not done anything about it so I will go talk to my Bank first. Some people also put a credit freeze on getting credit info from the three credit companies. As a senior who handles all our accounts it is another thing to worry about.

    by Ginger — September 30, 2017

  14. Sharon Alexander – thank you for sharing your distressing story and advice. It’s wise to guard our personal information because those IDs protect every one of our current and future assets.

    Tim Turk & Louise – Beginning this April, the government is changing Medicare ID numbers from SS numbers to other numbers entirely. Unfortunately it’s expected to take a year (longer if I know our government) to send out new numbers and cards to everyone. So until April 2019 it would be prudent to consider other options.
    http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-2017/new-medicare-id-cards.html

    For many of us, carrying a Medicare card is already unnecessary because a lot of health care groups issue their own cards and ID numbers. If it’s your only insurance ID, you can make a copy of the card, black out the numbers on that copy and carry that blacked-out copy with you, verbally supplying health providers those numbers as needed.

    There’s NO WAY I’d walk around with my driver’s license AND Social Security card. Having access to those two pieces of info gives thieves the keys to the victim’s financial kingdom. Think about it – when you call your bank how do you verify your identity? Name, address, DL number, last four of your SS and maybe a password. If you claim to have forgotten the password they’ll send you a text or email, which almost certainly comes to your cell phone. Bingo.

    If a wallet get stolen with DL, SS card and your cell phone? Good luck! Talk about a potential disaster. I admit to not using a password lock on my cellphone but will rectify that today. In my opinion, one can’t be too careful or have too many layers of security.

    by JCarol — September 30, 2017

  15. Other things I have done which are easy and could be important even if you have not yet become the victim of identity theft. One, put a password on any and all credit cards. During the past seven years, unknown persons have tried to get one of my credit cards but were only stopped because they did not know the password. I stopped doing business with one company because they weren’t asking and my card was constantly compromised. In fact, I was told by a customer service person for that company, the perpetrator was using my account for money laundering!! I have passwords on EVERYTHING; my pension, credit cards, mortgage (because perpetrators can take out a second mortgage with your info) and anything to do with money. I can guarantee you it will save you a lot of work in the long run. It took two years from the initial start of my identity theft, before the issues slowed down. Oh, and by the way, be sure to read all “junk” mail. Perpetrators have tried to set up “bill me later” accounts, and other such things I had never heard of. Thankfully, the companies involved sent me a confirmation (because they still use my address) and I was able to thwart the issue. Never under estimate how clever these folks are. I should write a book.

    by Sharon Alexander — October 1, 2017

  16. Sharon – Are you referring to a password to be used when you phone the CC company, or is this something else?

    I’m always interested in learning better security measures and greatly appreciate your advice.

    Thanks.

    by JCarol — October 1, 2017

  17. Because ID theft has become so prevalent, most credit card companies will allow you to put a password on your account. That way if someone phones, pretending to be you, the CC company is suppose to ask for the password. If the person doesn’t know it, they are stopped. I put passwords on mine with my initial ID theft. And glad I did because someone still tries to get to my CC’s. With this latest Equifax debacle, which I was also a part of, someone tried to get to every one of my credit cards and was only stopped because of the passwords. My CC companies chose to change my cards anyway, just as a precaution.

    by Sharon Alexander — October 2, 2017

  18. Very good to know, Sharon. Thanks for the tip.

    by StarSong — October 3, 2017

  19. I have read that using your phone to pay at the checkout uses new numbers for every transaction to protect your credit card and so you don’t have to use the actual credit card. Some of you must do this and do you think this makes a transaction more safe and protect your card from theft?

    by Carol Dugan — October 28, 2017

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