Equifax recently announced that its systems were breached this summer by an unauthorized third party, which gained access to personal information including full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses.
The breach, which Equifax discovered in late July, has the potential to impact approximately 143 million consumers. With nearly one in three American’s personal data potentially exposed, consumers are left wondering what they can do to protect themselves or their companies.
Determine Equifax exposure
Equifax says it will be contacting all consumers whose personal information was breached. In the meantime, the credit reporting bureau has set up a dedicated website to provide information and help consumers find out if they’ve been impacted. Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com and click the “Potential Impact” tab or call the Equifax hotline at 866.447.7559.
ID theft protection from Equifax
Whether or not they are directly affected, Equifax is offering one year of free identity theft protection and credit monitoring to all U.S. consumers. To get the free year of TrustedID Premier Credit Monitoring, visit equifaxsecurity2017.com and click the “Enroll” tab. Please note that after the one-year period expires, standard charges will apply.
Credit monitoring best practices
The significant impact of this and other recent hacks is an important reminder to all consumers, businesses and organizations to remain vigilant about identity theft. Below is an overview of steps to take now and into the future to monitor the security of personal and financial data.
Use two-step authentication
Most companies and financial institutions offer two-step authentication. This adds a second layer of protection to account log-ins, by requiring an additional credential beyond username and password. Examples include a bank sending a one-time passcode via text or email to access accounts, or a ZIP code required to confirm a credit card payment. Consumers should explore all online accounts and enable two-step authentication when available.
Regularly review credit report
Consumers have the right to request a free copy of their credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. A best practice is to stagger these requests so an updated report can be reviewed every four months. Unrecognizable accounts or activity could indicate identify theft. Free reports can be requested from www.annualcreditreport.com.
Beyond the free credit reports, consumers may consider engaging a service provider to closely monitor existing credit cards and bank accounts closely. Constant fraud monitoring services are available for a fee, but there are also free services available, such as CreditKarma.
Place fraud alert on credit report
By placing a fraud alert on their credit report, consumers require lenders and creditors to take extra precautions in verifying their identities before extending credit. Initial fraud alerts are free and last for 90 days. Placing a fraud alert can be done online through any one of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion), and the agency of choice will notify the other two bureaus.
Freeze credit report
Placing a security freeze on a credit report takes a consumer’s information out of circulation and makes it harder for a third party to open a fraudulent credit card or new account. No current or potential lender can access credit history when frozen, so consumers that need to apply for credit would need to lift the freeze before doing so.
Unlike a fraud alert, there is a cost to activate and deactivate a credit freeze. Freezes also differ from fraud alerts in that they must be placed individually with the three credit reporting bureaus via phone.
Today’s digital world requires constant vigilance against cyber threats. At RKL, ensuring the security and privacy of our clients is a top priority, and our team of fraud investigators help businesses and organizations prevent, detect or mitigate fraudulent activity. Contact your RKL advisor or one of our local offices with any questions or concerns.
Contributed by Bethany A. Novis, CPA/ABV, CVA, CFE, a partner in RKL’s Business Consulting Services Group. Bethany specializes in fraud investigation, business valuation and litigation services. In addition to being a licensed CPA accredited in business valuation, she holds designations as a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).