Typically, when I talk about asset protection I’m talking about preserving wealth by limiting taxes and exposure to liabilities. Today, however, I’m going to take a time out and talk about another kind of threat to your assets that you need to take steps to protect yourself from.
Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting agencies, announced that it has been hacked, putting around 143 million Americans at risk of having their identities stolen. The company has released an online tool you can use to see if your information was stolen, but at this point, everyone should just assume that their information has been compromised.
This is such a bad situation, there will probably be lawsuits that you might want to participate in, or new laws that give you some sort of recourse against the company if your identity is stolen. In the meantime, you should be closely monitoring your accounts and your credit reports for suspicious activity. You might also want to put what is known as a “freeze” on your credit reports.
Keep An Eye On Your Accounts & Credit Reports
The most important thing you can do right now is to keep a close watch on all your financial accounts and on your credit reports.
When identity thieves gain access to an account, they will often test the waters by making a small charge. If nobody notices, they go in for the kill; cleaning out your savings and racking up huge bills. If you see suspicious activity on one of your accounts, report it immediately.
You should also be looking for suspicious activity on your credit reports. If you don’t already do so, start pulling the yearly free copy of your report from each of the big three credit reporting agencies. Yes, that includes Equifax, at least for the time being. The federal government recommends getting your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You can get all three reports at once, or get one from a different company every few months.
There are credit monitoring services that will do all of these things for you. If you chose to go this route, make sure you are signing up with a trustworthy company, and that you are sure you know exactly what services you are paying for. While some of these companies provide help if your identity is stolen, many of them just alert you that something fishy is going on and leave the heavy lifting to you.
Freeze! Hold it right there!
One way to be proactive about protecting yourself from identity theft instead of just being prepared to react if something bad happens, is to freeze your credit reports.
A credit report freeze blocks anyone who doesn’t currently have access from pulling your credit report. This can prevent identify thieves from setting up new accounts in your name because most lenders will run a credit check before extending someone credit. When a lender runs into a frozen account, and the person trying to open the account is unable to unlock his or her purported credit report, the lender will know something is not right.
To put a freeze in place, visit Experian, Equifax and TransUnion or call them: Equifax (1-800-349-9960), Experian (1-888-397-3742) or TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).
When it comes to your financial health, it is always wise to take a page out of the Boy Scout manual and “Be prepared.” If you have questions about the Equifax hack, or how to protect yourself from identity theft, I would be happy to chat with you.