A Real World Action Plan
by Kelly Cory, President/CEO of Keystone Investigative Services, Inc.
I’m sure you have all heard by now that the major credit bureau Equifax was hacked and over a hundred thousand consumers’ identity information has been stolen. Usually, when there is a security breach, you are told to report any suspected identity theft to a credit bureau. Well, what do you do if it’s the credit bureaus itself that was compromised?
In this day and age, it’s very likely that everyone has had at least some of their information compromised in one fashion or another. So it’s safe to assume this affects you. Prevention is still key to mitigate the damage. I cannot even begin to convey to you the man hours, financial cost and stress it takes to correct the effects of identity theft. It will likely haunt you your entire life and stay with you even when someone is trying to wrap up your estate someday. Just when you think you have all the fraud behind you, something else will pop up. With identity theft, you will pay with your time or your money and likely both. Then there’s the stress of trying to convince even law enforcement and the SSA that you are really you and not the fraudster pretending to be you. It is your worst nightmare.
You can still prevent your identity from being used. Just assume your identity information is floating around out there somewhere and take the necessary safety measures to put up barriers to make it less desirable by criminals. Why make yourself a low hanging fruit. Maybe the criminals will decide not to bother with your data if it’s too much trouble when there are so many millions of Americans still using their dog’s name as their bank password or their date of birth to access their smart phone.
I’m sure you have heard all the advice on strong passwords, antiviruses on your electronic devices, covering your PIN at the ATM, looking for skimmers etc. There are several great articles on prevention here https://www.keystoneis.com/category/protect-your-personal-information/. This email is not to drive home those facts; you should already doing those things. I’m telling you what you can do above and beyond for active defense.
- You get three free credit reports each year, one from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. They do not always have the same information as not all credit reporting agencies report to all three. Spread these free reports out over the year. Put it on your calendar and make it routine.
- Here is a free resource: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Carefully review your credit report for any information you do not recognize. Report anything unusual to the FTC (see my article https://www.keystoneis.com/identity-theft-victim-resources/ if necessary)
- Since Equifax data may now be unreliable (they are fixing their security patch but the damage is already done), be sure to compare their credit report on you with the reports from the other bureaus.
- Assume your identity information has already been compromised. Put your name on Fraud Watch with the credit bureaus so that they must verify your identity before opening accounts in your name, SSN etc. It’s simple. You can easily enter your information over the phone and they put the fraud watch in place. This can also be done online on the websites for the credit bureaus.
- Note: The free fraud watch is only good for 90 days. The average time it takes to uncover identity theft is about 3 years from the time of the breach. But, without a police report for an active identity theft case, the credit bureaus will not allow you to use the permanent fraud watch feature. So, calendar a call in every 90 days and renew it. If you call one, they are supposed to notify the others.
- Consider freezing your credit. This will again put up barriers making it difficult to open accounts. Do not do this if you are about to make a big purchase such as a car or house. It can be unfrozen with a small fee. The up side is that it is not easy for anyone else to open a line of credit on your behalf as well, and run up expenses.
- Start using an Identity Theft Protection “insurance policy” to monitor your identify and sensitive information. Who has time to actively watch for any piece of your information to be floating around on the dark side of the Internet for sale or watch for any signs of fraud? You maintain insurance on your car, your home, your health but why not your most sensitive data; your identity? It is essential these days to have an insurance policy on your personal identity. Those subscription based programs protect far more than just your credit card information. Many include your Driver’s License numbers (so no one can make a fake ID of you), your credit card numbers, your medical insurance information (so people can go to a hospital and pretend to be you to get treatment-running up bills for you and changing your own medical records to theirs), your date of birth (so people can’t commit crimes in your name and give you a criminal record), and your phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and any sensitive piece of information that can be used to create a new “you.”
- Be sure to subscribe to a plan that covers ALL forms of your identity as credit only comprises of a small percentage of what could be stolen.
- Select a monitoring company that not only watches for and notifies you of a breach in your identity information, but one that is committed to helping resolve any issues that arise to fully restore your identity for you.
More information can be found here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do
Please forward this to anyone you care about to help them see the value in prevention. Stay safe!