With the recent Equifax breach our senses are heightened more than ever about internet security. In case you haven't heard, Equifax (who is one of three major credit reporting bureaus) incurred breaches to their data systems earlier this year. The breach included names, birthdates, Social Security numbers and credit card information on about two-thirds of American adults. In this letter, we'll take a look at a few approaches to protect your accounts and identity using various online services.
Given this latest breach, we recommend that you do them all, but at the very least everyone should do steps one and two. In order of priority and complexity:
Arrange for alerts on your credit cards. Login to each of your credit card providers, and follow their prompts to have them send you a text or email message whenever a new charge has been made to one of your cards. For example, the website for American Express has a button named "Account Alerts" to press and start the process. While you're online, be sure to check recent activity to see if there are any unknown charges. If there are, call the credit card company immediately.
Place a credit freeze on your information at the credit bureaus. There are three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and one of them is almost always contacted when someone applies for credit. By placing a freeze with each of them, your information is locked from all creditors so that new accounts may not be opened. If you later want to apply for credit, you will need to contact each of the bureaus to remove the freeze and then replace the freeze once you've received your credit.
Here are the websites to set up a freeze at each of the bureaus:
Once the freezes are in place, you will need to lift them if you want to apply for credit. Also, there are nominal fees to place and remove security freezes and some freezes may expire after a set period, such as seven years.
Sign up for credit monitoring. Each of the credit bureaus offers a service to monitor your credit continuously (note that if your data was included in the Equifax breach, they will provide their monitoring services for free for one year: go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com for more information). There are also independent companies, like LifeLock and Fair Isaac (www.myfico.com), who provide the same services.
Each of these companies has their own approach, but they generally monitor the same data. They will alert you whenever new credit is being applied for using your information. LifeLock claims that they monitor other areas, such as police records and foreign databases, and report to you if they see your name showing up. The cost of these services range from about $10 to $30 per month, and there are generally discounts if paid in a lump sum for the year. They usually offer family discounts as well. Using this step in addition to Step Two provides a "belts and suspenders" approach: the freeze will be on, plus you'll be alerted whenever someone tries to impersonate you by applying for credit in your name.
Here at Vista, we've used a variety of these services over the years. They have generally proved to be worth the effort and cost. As scammers become more sophisticated and gain access to more data, it's important that we be vigilant in monitoring and protecting our own information.
Of course, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. We always look forward to hearing from you.
Your Vista Wealth Management Team
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