According to the Federal Trade Commission, the sensitive personal information of 143 million Americans has been exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of three credit reporting agencies. Names, addresses, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and credit card numbers have all been compromised.
Identity theft has become one of the most prolific and damaging crimes within the last decade. The tremendous benefit of technology for increasing productivity through the sharing of data also has its dark downside. All of that information about you is “out there”, and in many cases can be accessed by thieves. Because the Equifax data breach was so vast, most likely, you may be affected.
Take Action to Protect Your Identity
Per the FTC, take action now by going to Equifax’s website: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
- Find out if your information was exposed. 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.
- Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. 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.
How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
Here are some additional steps you can take to make sure your data is safer and your chance of becoming a victim to identity fraud is minimized.
- Be careful with whom you share information. Always know who is asking for any specific data about you, how they will use it, and how they will protect it. If someone calls and asks for information, check the caller ID to make sure they are who they say they are. If in doubt, hang up.
- Protect your valuable papers. Keep anything that has sensitive information about you in a safe place or locked up. Don’t leave anything lying around if others have access to your home, such as repair workers or cleaning services. Buy a shredder. Destroy any mail or paper that has names, dates, or other facts about you on it that can be used to gain an advantage for harm. Don’t leave mail sitting in a mail box for too long.
- Keep your computers turned off when not in front of them. Be careful of public wireless access and avoid transmitting sensitive data over public hot spots. Change passwords as often as possible. Make sure they are difficult to guess. Use computer security programs, firewalls, and anti malware detection.
- Check your credit reports, for you and your children who live with you, too. Child identity theft can be just as damaging. Set up fraud alerts on your bank account and credit cards for any suspicious use. If a charge over a certain level is made, the card company can alert you on your phone or through email.
- Be discreet in use of social media. Make sure only people you know have access to your postings of personal information.
- File your taxes early and with a professional preparer who utilizes secure data links and protected files.
- Read privacy notices. These disclosures outline how any information about you is shared with other sources. When possible, opt out of any permissions to provide your data to another entity.
At Punta Gorda Financial Planning, we take the security of your valuable information very seriously. Punta Gorda Financial Planning’s custodian, Fidelity, has a range of safeguards and multiple layers of security in place to protect customer accounts and information.
We will always do our very best to keep your financial data safe. Feel free to ask us about any concerns you may have about possible identity theft. We can discuss with you your specific situation and help you put any protections in place.
Written by Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP®, PFS.
My aim is to offer clarity to your finances. I specialize in helping individuals and families determine what is most important in their financial lives, identify short and long-term goals, and make great choices for achieving comfort, security, and peace of mind.
I graduated from Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland, and have been a Vice President of our investment management affiliate, Geier Asset Management, Inc, since its founding in 1999. I have over 25 years' experience in financial planning and investment management and am licensed as a Certified Financial Planner® professional, a CPA, and Personal Financial Specialist. I am member of the Personal Financial Planning section of the American Institute of CPS's and Florida Chapter of the Financial Planning Association.