Editor’s Note: From time to time we like to invite local experts from the community to answer questions about parenting and raising kids in Huntsville and North Alabama on a budget. Today we asked James Brown,Chief Risk Officer for Progress Bank, to address questions about the Equifax hack.
The Equifax breach is estimated to have affected approximately 143 million American consumers. The perpetrators of this hack of Equifax data gained access to people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also obtained credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 people.
How do you find out if your family has been affected by the Equifax breach?
To determine if you may have been affected by this breach, visit Equifax’s website; www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
Click on the “Am I Impacted?” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You will want to be sure and use a secure computer and an encrypted network connection since you will be imputing a large part of your Social Security number. A secure computer is your private computer or one that requires a password and/or other authentication steps to access. Encryption is software that scrambles the information you send over the Internet into a code so it’s not accessible to others. Wi-Fi hot spots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, and other public places often are not secure.
If I’ve been affected, what next? What problems do I need to look out for?
Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
First, sign up for a credit monitoring service. Equifax is offering all U.S. Consumers one year free credit monitoring service through “TrustedID Premier” which is a monitoring service that is operated by Equifax. There are also a number of other credit monitoring services available and check with your bank to see if they offer the service. At Progress Bank, our Rewards Checking account offers enrollment for free Credit Score and 3-in-1 credit monitoring. These credit monitoring services will alert you to activity reported to the credit bureau agencies in your name.
If In Serious Doubt, Freeze It Out
Second, you may want to consider placing a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your credit files. A credit freeze makes it difficult for someone to open a new account in your name. If you place the freeze and you want to open a new credit account, you will have to contact the reporting agencies and remove the freeze. There may be a charge associated with placing and removing a freeze on your account.
A credit freeze will not prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. A fraud alert placed on your account will warn creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name is really you.
What are the repercussions of the hack?
It is difficult to tell at this moment, what the total repercussion of the Equifax breach will be. Many times when this type of data is hacked, the data is sold to those people who would attempt to use the data to make purchases, open credit accounts and use the data to acquire things using the identity and data obtained in the breach. There will most likely be additional scams to obtain personal information that will attempt to disguise their action as a result of the Equifax breach. There have already been reported cases of emails and telephone scams where the caller or sender of the email represent themselves as Equifax or someone working for Equifax and will request additional information.
Don’t ever give your personal information to anyone over the phone or using email unless you have personally verified the source. You should go directly to the source – Equifax – or your credit card company or whomever the caller suggests they are and verify the activity using a phone number or email address that you know is correct for the company you are attempting to verify.
Another suggestion for action is to file your income taxes early. People also use this data to file false tax returns and receive the refunds before the real taxpayer files a return. On the positive side, the size of the Equifax breach will most likely result in better security systems being put into place for corporations and companies that hold customer personal data. You will most likely also begin to see more employers offering identity theft protection as a benefit for their employees.
Is there any way for families to to protect themselves in the future?
We live in a digital, computerized society. There will always be those people who will attempt to steal information, and unfortunately, illegally use that information for self-gain. But you should be pro-active in protecting your information and your financial accounts.
- Monitor your credit report, your bank accounts and your credit card statements.
- Report any activity that looks suspicious or any transaction you do not remember making. If reported in a timely manner, the credit card companies have a zero liability policy for their customers.
- Sign up for your bank’s online banking service. Progress Bank has a very robust online banking program that allows customers to monitor their accounts and transactions from home, from their phone or their tablet.
- Don’t give your personal information to anyone that calls or response to an email unless you have verified the true source.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Brown is the SVP | Chief Risk Officer for Progress Bank in Huntsville. A Huntsville native, James has spent 40 years in the banking industry. James is active in the community, serving as President of the Huntsville South Civic Association, a board member of Partners for Athletes and Leaders in Schools, a board member of the Huntsville & Madison County Railroad Authority, and a member of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee.
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As a hyper-local website focused on all aspects of parenting in and around Huntsville, AL, and the Tennessee Valley, Rocket City Mom occasionally asks local parents to submit their stories for publication. This is part of our continual effort to represent varied viewpoints and experiences on our site. However, these articles should not be seen as necessarily expressing the views of Rocket City Mom Media Group, LLC.