While most of us were watching the path of Hurricane Irma, another big news story surfaced last week. Equifax, who most of us use to run annual credit reports, was victim to a cybersecurity incident potentially impacting 143 million Americans. We have already received calls from a few clients who have been affected and expect to receive more since this will likely affect about half of the country.
Are You Impacted?
To find out if your information has been compromised you should check the potential impact on their website:
When running through this process I found out that my own information was likely compromised and was instructed to come back to the site on 9/13/17 to enroll for the free credit monitoring they will be providing. In the meantime, I will plan to monitor transactions on my bank accounts and credit cards. The credit card companies typically do a good job of catching fraudulent activity quickly and shutting it down.
Should Your Pursue a Credit Freeze?
When it comes to freezing one’s credit there are several pros and cons that need to be weighed. Having your credit frozen will effectively prevent your identity from being stolen so from a full protection and peace of mind standpoint that may be the way to go.
Questions to ask include:
- Have you ever had issues with identity theft or fraud?
- Do you have all necessary loans and have no plans to open new lines of credit in the future?
If so, a credit freeze may be appropriate. Protecting yourself from a potential threat can reduce the stress and potential cost of having your identity stolen.
If not, it would be prudent to step back and consider the cons.
- Cost: There is often a cost associated with freezing/unfreezing your credit, albeit a small one, but depending on how often they occur could add up. You will also have to reach out to all three credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian, and Equifax) separately if you want to freeze/unfreeze your credit reports, potentially tripling the cost and hassle.
- Inconvenience: Do you expect to need to open a new line of credit in the future? Whether applying for a new credit card, car loan, or refinancing your mortgage, you would have to unfreeze your credit for the lender to evaluate your creditworthiness.
- Other Considerations: Your credit may also be checked during several non-loan related activities such as renewing your cell phone contract, utility services, or applying to rent an apartment/home. In these instances, you would need to unfreeze your credit for the lender to review before moving forward with their service – so you will want to consider if the relative peace of mind is worth the potential hassle down the road.
While freezing your credit may seem like the only option, there are other alternatives to consider…
Other Steps to Take
- Update your passwords so they are difficult to hack. NY Daily News found the top ten worst passwords to include: 123456, password, baseball, football, etc. Others have started to use password managers where you enter one login/password and they manage all your other passwords for you.
- Monitor your credit report to look out for new accounts. You are allowed a free credit report annually (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action) from the major reporting agencies including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can also sign up for credit monitoring which will notify you when new accounts are opened.
- Review your bank transactions online or on your statements to look for transactions you didn’t make.
- Avoid maintaining large balances in checking or savings accounts with a debit card attached. Keep larger account balances in brokerage accounts or accounts without debit and/or check writing features.
- Open a Credit Karma account: Credit Karma is a free online service which provides credit monitoring. Through weekly updates, you will be able to monitor any changes to your credit reports, view new account openings and aggregated debt balances as well as tracking improvements/detriments to your credit score. Just be aware of the extra “tailored and targeted ads” you will receive pitching new credit cards, sources of loans, etc. as Credit Karma is paid for by advertisements from vendors that are passed through to consumers.
How are Financial Symmetry Clients Protected?
Withdrawing funds from Pershing accounts is not possible with our clients’ login, which provides higher security than a retail bank or brokerage account where a thief could hack your username/password and access your funds.
Without signed documentation and verbal confirmation, funds withdrawn from Pershing accounts can only be sent via check to the address on the account, or via an electronic transfer to a bank account that has been authorized with previously signed documentation.
All withdrawals from Pershing accounts are seen on the next business day by your FSI team so we can be on the lookout for unusual activity.
It’s important to remember that breaches like these have happened before and will happen again. Taking preventative measures like those listed above limit the potential damage of such events. Please contact a financial planner at Financial Symmetry if you have any further questions regarding this topic.
Copyright: maxkabakov / 123RF Stock Photo