Stay Calm and Carry Your Smart Phone: Tips on Surviving the Equifax Data Breach

The news lately has been peppered with stories about Equifax.  A security breach of epic proportions involving some 143 million Americans and other consumers is unfolding to be the story of the year and not in a good way.  Equifax is one of the big three credit reporting bureaus in the United States and on September 7, 2017 they announced that hackers had broken into their systems and stolen personally identifiable information or PII over the course of several months.  Thieves now have social security numbers, dates-of-birth, addresses and various other components of information that typically remain confidential and protected in virtually every environment known in contemporary society.  Information is power and this latest stolen payload packs a huge gut punch to consumers who may worry that someone else will gain access to their valuable credit information and abuse it.

 

The overall fragility of personal information is tested in our everyday lives as fraudsters continually make attempts to trick us into providing our payment card information and other components of data that allow them to monetize and resell dumps of data or in the parlance of hackers “FULLZ” which is simply another way of describing a criminal payload of information bundled for sale that contains high value information that other hackers desire like your PayPal login or Home Equity Line account information.  How can the average consumer joust with sophisticated criminals while protecting themselves?  It may simply mean slowing down and evaluating who you communicate with and what you divulge during that communication.

 

Take a Step Back – Evaluate

It’s reasonable to assume that your personal data may have been compromised a few times in recent years.  Consumers today are extremely familiar with the reissuance of their payments cards due to fraudulent activity and this continuous dull roar of activity can spell disaster as more and more consumers become complacent with data breaches.

Love texting and email?  Blindly trusting technology like text messaging and email can spell trouble.  We live in a modern society that has converted personal interactions and conversations into lines of digital text that are often void of inflection and null in terms of eye contact and body language for obvious reasons.  It is often impossible during a stressful and busy workday to absorb the level of information that is aimed at you without making a few tactical errors in judgement.  The stakes, however, are much higher as information becomes the new and valuable medium of exchange on the dark web.  Here’s a few tips to stay safer by taking a few steps back so that you can evaluate more judiciously.

 

Safety Tips for Consumers

  • Assume your data is at risk. No need to panic – just be practical.
  • Make sure your official identification like driver’s license and passport are updated. Do not allow them to expire.
  • Are you confident that your financial institutions and credit card issuers, brokerage accounts and others have your contact information in an emergency?
  • How safety savvy are you? Check out these excellent security do’s and don’ts.
  • File your taxes in a timely manner. If fraudsters possess your social security number, DOB and address they could very well file a fraudulent tax return on your behalf.
  • Do not trust incoming communication-vet everything even if it means hanging up and making your own outbound calls to verify that a trusted business partner was trying to communicate with you.
  • You like technology but are you using it to stay safer? Did you know that nearly every financial institution today offers account alerts that can be set-up easily online within your secure online banking website?  Take advantage of this technology so that you can receive timely emails and text messages regarding your personal finances.
  • Set fraud alerts with all credit bureaus if you are concerned that your information is at risk.
  • Monitor credit activity via annualcreditreport.com or www.MyFICO.com
  • Reset account passwords, PIN codes and other log-in credentials on financial accounts to ensure that your information is more secure.
  • Establish an account access security phrase, word or PIN for your financial accounts whenever possible.
  • Refrain from seeking low cost, “get safe and secure” assistance offers from social media or unknown brands. Unqualified entities are fully prepared to take your money while delivering zero value and many are fraudsters posing as trusted confidants.

If you are still feeling vulnerable and need to consult a professional take a moment to drop into your financial institution or call and make an appointment to discuss your financial health and personal security.  Remember: If you wait until there is a problem then it’s often too late.