Consumers and Loan Officers received a wake-up call in early September with the announcement of a data breach at Equifax Inc., one of the three credit-reporting bureaus. While such lapses happen, one of this size and scope occurring at a firm some consumers pay to protect their financial information—and others have no direct relationship with—highlights the need for added vigilance. Whether it was your information that was compromised or information you use in your job, greater care and awareness about safeguarding personal and financial information may be warranted.
What to Do
Generally, people gravitate to one of two extremes. Either they accept that breaches happen and do little to protect their information or they allow their anxiety to make them overly cautious. The best response resides somewhere in between, by being preventative and regularly monitoring your information even as your lenders, banks, and credit card issuers do the same.
The following tips will help you take quick action if you suspect an attempt is being made to improperly access or use your information.
#1: Stay informed. When you hear of a breach, be proactive. Find out if you were directly impacted instead of waiting for the company to reach out to you. In the Equifax matter, you can find out if you are among the 143 million affected by visiting www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. The site will also provide you with a course of action if you were.
#2: Put your information on lockdown. Freeze your record at each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experien and TransUnion. Fortunately, you need only call one of the firms to initiate a freeze at all three. You can always grant access to your credit report once you enter the mortgage process through a temporary lift of the freeze. Then, you can speak with your lender about the right time to put the lock back on.
#3: Resist the urge to click. When you receive emails looking to confirm financial or personal information, don’t. No matter how official the email looks, pick up the phone and call the institution using a number you found that’s not on the email to confirm what information is needed and why.
#4: Monitor your information. Periodically check your own credit report. You can order copies at annualcreditreport.com. Signing up for an alert service is fine, but it only notifies you to activity after the fact. That enables you to take action, but it is not preventive.
#5: File your tax return as early as possible. Thieves who gain access to Social Security numbers often attempt to file earlier than you in hope of a snagging a tax refund. While the IRS is vigilant and has a protocol to guard against this type of fraud, it helps to be defensive and file early, even if you have to amend later.
#6: Change passwords regularly and agree to two-step verification processes. Many firms will now text you an access code before allowing you to reset a password. Additionally, some financial companies want to verify your identity, even if you entered the correct user name/password combination, by texting a confirmation number to your phone. Agreeing to this extra step creates an added layer of security.
Keeping your personal information safe is the goal. However, should you have any reason to suspect it has been compromised, report the theft and contact your state’s attorney general’s office. Also, notify your financial institutions. Being proactive is your secret advantage when keeping your information and finances safe.