Equifax Security Breach
Credit-reporting giant Equifax Inc. fell victim to a hacker-driven information breach back in May and continuing through July. This potentially affects over 140 million Americans indefinitely, including myself and statistically many of you.
Meridian has received multiple calls from concerned clients with money located at Charles Schwab and Fidelity. I have confidence that the safeguards these institutions have in place are sufficient for protecting your accounts. Both companies use (and have been using) extensive questioning that require even more personal information than your Social, date of birth, address, etc. For example, in order to place a transaction, both will ask you three questions from a question bank that include such detail as, “What was the last transaction made?” “What is your mother’s maiden name?” and “What is your account balance?” They will also notify you and ask further security questions with every attempted login from an unrecognized device. In addition to the safeguards in place at these institutions, many of these transactions are tracked by us here at Meridian, and we try to monitor unusual activity.
One new layer of security offered freely by both Fidelity and Schwab is the use of “voiceprints.” The next time you call, I recommend asking to set up your Schwab Voice ID or Fidelity MyVoice. You will be prompted to repeat a phrase (e.g. “At Schwab, my voice is my password”) that they will then save as a propriety algorithm to your account. Going forward you will get to skip the personal questions and just say the phrase instead, much like a vocal version of the iPhone fingerprint scanner.
In addition to setting up a voiceprint, you may be interested in taking following measures to help catch and prevent identification fraud:
First, I recommend everyone go online to www.trustedidpremier.com to see if your personal information may have been compromised. Using your surname and the last six digits of your social security number, it will tell you if you have potentially been impacted or not. With either result, you should see an orange “Enroll” button.
Equifax is offering all who sign up a free year of credit monitoring service.* Anyone can join, potentially impacted or not, from now through November 21, 2017, by clicking the “Enroll” button on the aforementioned site. Because even Equifax itself seems to be unsure of exactly how pervasive this cyber attack was, I recommend everyone take advantage of this service even if the Equifax lookup listed you as unaffected.
The best preventative approach to consider would be freezing your credit with the three major credit bureaus. A credit freeze absolutely prevents anyone (including you) from obtaining a new credit card or making a loan. A credit freeze can be lifted by you by using an assigned PIN. This is a very cheap way ($7.50 to place freezes at each bureau for Tennesseans, with the fee waived at Equifax through November 21st) to make it much more difficult for impersonators to draw new lines of credit. (Do not confuse this term with credit lock, which is not the same and not as effective.) In Tennessee, we also have the ability to place a freeze on dependents’ credit files. This will not affect any existing lines you may have and can be done in conjunction with credit monitoring, but should be installed after enrolling in the monitoring service. Phone numbers and websites for each bureau are listed below.
Steps down from freezing your credit are free fraud and security alerts. Fraud alerts set up through each credit bureau encourage (but do not legally require) lenders to contact you before shelling out money in your name. ChexSystems, a company that works with over 80% of banks to verify customers opening new checking and savings accounts, offers security alerts that notify you if someone tries to open a new account in your name. These alerts are not a very good long term solution because they typically only last 90 days. You will have to remember to renew indefinitely.
If you have concerns about your postal service being intercepted, you have the option to opt out of pre-approved credit offers through the mail either temporarily (5 years) or permanently by going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
Another common practice of identify thieves is the fraudulent submission of tax returns. File taxes as soon as possible to deter a fraudulent double filing that could cost you your refund.
Finally, an ongoing safeguard and healthy habit is to regularly review all your recent account and credit statements for unauthorized activity. By law, each of the 3 major credit bureaus is required to issue a free credit report upon request once per year via www.annualcreditreport.com. The faster you catch and investigate any illegitimate transactions or personal information changes, the more likely you are to recover what was lost and evade further damages.
Amidst all the “dos,” it is also important to keep in mind several “don’ts.” If you have an old brokerage account for which your username is your Social Security number, change it as soon as possible. Also be aware that no credit agency, including Equifax, will contact you through any venue asking to verify information without you initiating the contact. Do not fall victim to a phishing attack as fraudsters take advantage of consumers’ mad dash to secure personal information. Lastly, if you are wary of entering your personal information online when installing a credit freeze or alert, contact the companies by phone or mail instead.
Equifax Security Freeze, PO Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze, PO Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Security Freeze, PO Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022
Please note that Equifax in particular is being bombarded with people trying to freeze their credit. You will have to be patient when contacting them. We found it much easier to reach Experian and TransUnion to place credit freezes both online and over the phone.
If you would like detailed instructions for freezing your credit or have any other questions regarding the content of this article, please contact Renée Maggart at firstname.lastname@example.org or (865) 342-4449.
*You may have read about a controversial Arbitration Provision in the terms of the credit monitoring agreement offered by Equifax (through TrustedID Premier), allegedly proposing that enrolling in Equifax’s free credit monitoring program relinquishes individuals of the right to sue or benefit from a class action lawsuit. Equifax has since made a statement clarifying that this clause in fact does not preclude consumers from taking legal action against them as a result of the cybersecurity incident.
Meet the Author
Retirement Plan Officer
Renée is a Retirement Plan Officer at Meridian Trust nearing her first anniversary as a part of the Meridian family. After graduating summa cum laude from The University of Tennessee where she studied accounting and finance, Renée went on to earn her Master of Accountancy degree. She is currently pursuing her CPA designation and plans to subsequently pursue a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation to better serve clients.