Protecting Your Information After the Equifax Data Breach

October 10, 2017 | Market Commentary

What happened?

As you have likely already heard, Equifax, one of the three large American credit agencies (along with Experian and TransUnion) was hacked earlier this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the breach began as early as March, was discovered in late July, and finally disclosed to the public in early September. Hackers stole the names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers of approximately 143 million people. In addition, a small subset of people also had their credit card and other personal information exposed. While this hack is just one of many consumer-aimed attacks to make headlines in the last few years (e.g., Yahoo!, LinkedIn, eBay, Home Depot, Anthem Healthcare, JPMorgan Chase, Target, et. al.), it may leave you feeling more alarmed due to the depth of the stolen data, and because the breach happened to a “financial pillar” institution that we all have no choice but allow to collect and share our info.

Was my information exposed?

Equifax has set up a dedicated page where you can learn more about the hack and find out if your information was compromised (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com). Please note that the site requires you to include your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number to find out whether you are personally impacted.

My information was exposed, what do I do now? Or my information wasn’t compromised, but I still want to better protect myself.

Equifax is currently offering a year of complimentary access to TrustedID Premier, their credit file monitoring and identity theft protection service. This offer is available to all US consumers, regardless of whether your information was exposed. Per Equifax, TrustedID Premier includes “3-Bureau credit monitoring of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports; copies of Equifax credit reports; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports; identity theft insurance; and internet scanning for Social Security numbers.” Equifax has stressed that acceptance of the complimentary service does not preclude individuals from participating in any class-action lawsuit or other future legal proceedings. However, some are still concerned with the idea of attempting to remedy the situation by placing further trust in the company that just betrayed their trust.

If that’s the case, there are a number of independent services (both free services and subscription charge services) available offering a laundry list of monitoring and security options. For example, CreditKarma and ProtectMyID (free to AAA members) are some of the more frequently mentioned free services, while LifeLock and Identity Guard (among others) are popularly advertised pay services. The examples listed above are not recommendations, but only examples intended to support the point that there are numerous options available. If the Equifax breach taught us anything, it’s that we should always do our homework before deciding to enroll in any credit reporting/monitoring/protecting service, particularly one that charges a monthly fee.

Prior to engaging the services described above, there are a number of do-it-yourself steps you can take to secure and monitor your credit. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends the following steps:

  • Check your credit reports. You are entitled to free annual reviews of your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to sign-up and review your credit reports.
  • Consider requesting a fraud alert on your credit file. If your information was exposed, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. The agency you contact should automatically alert the other two agencies, but verify to be sure. This action makes it harder for criminals to steal your identity since it requires additional identity verification in order to open accounts in your name. An initial fraud alert lasts for 90-days, but can be renewed. There is no cost to put a fraud alert on your credit file.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit file. A credit freeze is a step beyond a fraud alert. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, thus making it extremely difficult for criminals to open up new accounts in your name. There is a nominal cost to put a freeze on your credit file and a small fee when you unfreeze your credit line.
  • Monitor all of your existing accounts. Even a credit freeze will not prevent someone from making changes to existing accounts. As such, it is important to regularly monitor your accounts for suspicious and/or unauthorized activity.
  • File your taxes as soon as possible. Unfortunately, identity theft tax return scams have become annual tradition. While tax season is still months away, your stolen information could be used by criminals in the future to rob you of your tax returns dollars. The easiest way to combat tax return identity theft scammers is to beat them to the punch and file your return as soon as possible.

What is Manning & Napier doing in the wake of this latest security breach?

Manning & Napier implements a variety of standards and procedures to protect the security of our clients’ information from misuse and cyber threats. In addition to maintaining a Privacy Policy and using a high-standard security approach, we have an Identity Theft Prevention Program to establish and implement policies, procedures, and internal controls. This program is designed to identify and detect indicators of a possible risk of identity theft for covered accounts and respond appropriately to red flags in order to prevent and mitigate identity theft. The most important step in securing your safety from identity theft is to entrust your personal information to individuals and companies who employ rigorous security standards and handle sensitive data with utmost care.

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