In early September, America learned that the credit reporting agency Equifax was hacked and 143 million consumers may have been affected.
That means that the personal information—Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers and birth dates—of roughly half of the U.S. population was likely compromised.
“Many if not most of our clients have likely been impacted by this breach,” Melissa Joy, CFP®, CDFA®, wrote in a post titled “Equifax Data Breach and Your Money” on her firm’s Money Centered Blog.
Multiple reports encourage consumers to be proactive.
“The only thing we can do is try to protect our data as best we can, and respond quickly if something does happen,” Lauren Lyons Cole, CFP®, wrote in the Business Insider article, “The Equifax Breach May Have Exposed 143 Million People’s Social Security Numbers—But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out.”
Here is where you and your clients should start:
Determine impact. Equifax has set up a website for consumers to input their last name and the last six digits of their Social Security numbers to identify if they were impacted. Everyone—even those not impacted—have the option to enroll in Equifax’s TrustedID Premier for a year to monitor credit and send alerts of potential fraud. And, enrolling won’t impact your ability to join a class action lawsuit against Equifax in the future.
Pull credit reports. Get your free reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian and see if there is anything unusual. Business Insider reports that clients can also use this as a time to review the way they currently manage credit and pinpoint areas for improvement.
Monitor credit and explore fraud alerts. Business Insider reports that adding a daily check to a service like Mint.com—say the same time you check Twitter—could let you know when there are any suspicious charges. Also, explore fraud alerts by calling one of the credit reporting agencies.
Consider a credit freeze. Journal of Financial Planning Academic Editor Barbara O’Neill wrote in a Rutgers University article, “Credit Freeze Information in the Wake of the Equifax Hack,” that credit freezes prevent potential creditors from accessing credit files so new lines of credit can’t be opened with your information. O’Neill reminds readers that credit freezes must be done individually at each credit reporting agency. And, consumers must unfreeze their credit reports separately with each agency.
Be proactive as tax season approaches. Multiple reports note that tax fraud might be a problem in the upcoming tax season due to the Equifax breach. The Center for Financial Planning, Inc., a wealth management firm based in Southfield, Michigan, reports that filing taxes early can help prevent this. The firm also notes that establishing a pin with the IRS could also help deter fraudsters.
Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.