The Investment Scientist

Equifax Data Breach: What To Do To Protect Yourself

Posted on: September 14, 2017

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Equifax, one of the three credit agencies, had their computer system hacked. As a result, 143 million Americans (and some Canadians and Britons) had their sensitive personal information, such as their name, address, birthday, social security number and credit card information compromised. You should assume you are one of the victims and take the following steps to protect yourself:

Step 1: Sign up for AnnualCreditReport.com

By law, you are entitled to one credit report per year from each  credit agency. Since there are three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and Transunion), you may stagger your requests and get one credit report every four months. AnnualCreditReport.com is a website jointly operated by the three credit agencies that provides a centralized location for  requesting your annual free credit reports.

If you want more timely monitoring, you could sign up for CreditKarma.com which allows you to monitor your TransUnion credit report on a weekly basis in exchange for being subjected to their targeted marketing. I don’t recommend this.

Step 2: Place a credit freeze on your credit report
A credit freeze will  prevent any creditors from accessing your credit report, thereby making it impossible to borrow money using your name without your knowledge. You need to contact all three credit agencies to freeze your credit and they all charge a nominal fee for this service. In the future, if you need to take out a loan or apply for a credit card, you can ask the creditor which credit bureau they use, and you can unfreeze report from that agency. This is a lot of hassle but it’s the most bulletproof way to protect yourself.

Short of a credit freeze, you can request fraud alert service from one of the credit agencies , and they are obliged to inform the other two. A fraud alert usually only lasts for  90 days. Within this time frame, any creditor will be informed that you are a target of fraud and that they need to contact you to verify any account opened under your name. This is free and convenient but it’s not bulletproof.

Step 3: Place a charge alert on all your credit cards

All major credit cards have this service.  If a charge is larger than say $10 (or $50), they will send an alert to you by text or email. With a charge alert, you can monitor charges to your credit card  in real time and catch any unauthorized charges instantly.

If you take these three steps to protect yourself, you don’t need to be too concerned about  the data breach.

Schedule a Discovery review with me, or get my white paper for free: The Informed Investor: 5 Key Concepts for Financial Success.

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor and Physicians Practice. To explore a long-term wealth advisory relationship, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.



You may also get his monthly newsletter, or join his Facebook page for regular wealth management insights. Michael's email is info[at]mzcap.com.

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