Equifax, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Commissions on Elections, Anthem, Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, Yahoo/AOL, Bank of America, Citigroup, eBay, Gmail, AT&T, Verizon, Hilton Hotels, Scottrade, Ameritrade, Walmart, Facebook – the list of recent hacks and data breaches seems endless, affecting every public and private industry. For an even more comprehensive look at the number of organizations dealing with this issue, check out Wikipedia’s list. If these large organizations cannot do it, how are individuals meant to protect personal information from hackers?
The truth is that no individual or company can prevent or stop your data from being stolen. If a company claims they can, they are lying to you. However, we all can take steps to make it harder for the bad guys to get their hands on it. Frankly, from everything I’ve read, most adults in America deserve a failing report card in protecting against fraud. In reality, it’s safe to assume that your information is already in the wrong hands.
Speaking from experience, being one of the 145.5 Million people affected by the Equifax breach and working in the banking industry, here are four steps that I recommend people take to protect and safeguard personal information.
Step 1: Go to Annual Credit Report.com and obtain a free credit report from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Every year you can obtain free credit reports so that you can monitor your credit. I completed this task a few weeks after the Equifax breach and found that someone used my information to secure a property in Ohio (I have never lived in Ohio). I have submitted a dispute request at each of the credit agencies to have this removed.
Step 2: Freeze your credit at Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. They do offer free credit freezes for a period of time, but often there is a charge after a certain period. Keep in mind, when you freeze your credit at the three agencies you will have to unfreeze your credit every time a bank or institution wants to access your credit report or credit score. You have to submit a request to unfreeze to each agency a couple of days in advance of submitting a credit application. For certain individuals or families, this seemingly insignificant nuisance can quickly turn into a nightmare if banks, lenders, and other financial institutions need access to your personal or entity information often. Regardless, I suggest you do it.
Step 3: Sign-up and pay for credit monitoring services. Each of the three agencies offers this service for a monthly or annual fee. Lifelock and IdentityShield offer services, but make sure to secure the highest package they offer, otherwise, you might as well “DIY” or Do it Yourself.
Step 4: Be diligent in your online security practices. Set up Two-Factor Authentication on bank accounts, investment and retirement accounts, brokerage accounts and wherever possible. Update your username, passwords, and security questions every 3 – 6 months. Encrypt whenever possible and don’t fall for ever-convincing phishing attack emails.
I also recommend educating yourself and your family about security basics by visiting the online resources below:
And finally, for those of you who like to read, I recommend the book The Art of Invisibility by Kevin Mitnick. The world’s most famous hacker teaches you how to be safe in the age of big brother and big data.
Even as I write this piece, while listening to CNBC, I hear the report that Equifax’s site to help customers with credit freezes was hacked. Don’t worry; they took that particular page down.
If you have questions regarding Indie Asset Partners’ efforts to protect your accounts with us, please send me an email, or give me a call at 317.428.6600.