Special report: 4 things you can do to protect your data

Posted by Amy Frushour Kelly, Communications Manager

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By now, you’re almost certainly aware of the data breach at Equifax, in which the sensitive personal information of approximately 143 million American consumers was compromised. This included names, social security numbers, home and work addresses, and in some cases, credit card information.

It’s essentially impossible to know whether your personal information was breached. The website Equifax provided as a tool for consumers to learn if their data was breached has been tested, and found to be unreliable. We tested this by inputting “Cookie Monster” with the last six digits of the social as 123456. Good news for “Sesame Street” fans – Cookie Monster’s data has not been breached. Elmo, however, wasn’t so lucky. Bottom line: the tool Equifax has provided is useless. Additionally, the tool prompts the user to provide their last name and the last six digits of their Social Security number, which is rather sensitive information, without advising the user to do so on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection to limit the possibility of further compromising their data.

Raich Ende Malter’s Director of IT, Louis Moran, offers this advice: “Even if you don’t know who Equifax is, it is likely that they have, or have access to, your information. The safest course of action is to act as though your data has been compromised. If you already have an identity theft protection service, start paying attention to it. If you don’t, consider getting one.” More on that below.

We strongly encourage you to take action as soon as possible. The steps below have been reported by multiple sources as a best course of action to take.

  1. Consider using an identity theft protection service. Here’s an article we found useful comparing some of the top identity and credit protection services. The best services will:
    1. Monitor changes to your credit reports at all three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion)
    2. Monitor the use of your personally identifying information online
    3. Use more than one method to alert you to suspicious activity (e.g., let you know by both email and text message) and have 24-hour service lines available
    4. Do everything they legally can to reclaim your stolen identity
  2. Not purchasing a service? Consider placing a credit freeze on your report. It won’t affect your credit score, but it will make it very difficult for anyone to open new accounts in your name. Fees to place a credit freeze are generally in the $5 to $10 range. The freeze will remain in place until you ask the credit-reporting agency to temporarily lift it or remove it completely. The fees to remove a freeze vary from state to state.
  3. Consider placing a fraud alert on your information. This is an option if you’ve decided against a credit freeze. Different types of fraud alert are available. A fraud alert is free, and can be effective in preventing people from opening accounts in your name. However, it does not prevent illegal use of existing accounts.
  4. File your taxes early. Tax-related identity theft is a very real and serious issue. Basically, it occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a refund that person is not entitled to. File your taxes as soon as you have all your necessary tax information, so someone else doesn’t file first.

Moran concludes, “If this is similar to the Target hack a few years ago the bad guys won’t be using your information for six to nine months. I suggest you use that time to batten down your hatches in regard to your identities.”

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov site provides a helpful guideline for your best course of action.

Further reading