20th Sep 2017
How to Avoid 3 Scams Following the Massive Equifax Data Breach
Wayne was planning on taking out a home equity loan last year to make his home more accessible for his mother, who was moving in with his family. One of the first things he did was order a credit report from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union to check his credit. Little did he know that he would be among the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.
According to Equifax, the breach lasted from mid-May through July 2017. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people.
Was Your Information Exposed?
There are steps to take to help see if your information was exposed, as follows:
• Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
• To find out if your information was exposed, click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
• Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
Avoid These Three Equifax Data-Breach Related Scams
There are three scams that experts believe will become prevalent in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach.
Imposter scams (even after you’ve initiated a credit freeze)
The Federal Trade Commission warned that it expected a new wave of imposter scams, with con artists posing as representatives of Equifax “calling to verify your account information.” Given that Equifax is providing free credit monitoring and credit freezes in wake of its data breach, the call may sound legitimate, the agency warned. But don’t ever provide any private information over the phone.
Tax identity theft that could rob you of your IRS refund
The IRS has been fighting tax identity theft for years. These scams involve criminals getting victims’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax refund claims. The agency cites data breaches as one of the main ways that con artists get the relevant information to pull off tax identity theft.
Victims often first figure out that there’s a problem when they file their annual tax returns and the IRS notifies them that another return has already been filed and their refund has been claimed. While the agency has a task force dedicated to these cons, they are complex and difficult to solve, often taking more than four months to investigate, according to the agency.
If your information was compromised in the data breach, make a point of filing your annual tax return promptly. And take immediate action if you are informed that more than one return was filed in your name; that you owe additional tax; or that IRS records indicate that you earned more than the amount of wage you reported.
If you believe you were a victim of a tax scam, be sure to file a police report and a fraud report with the FTC Identity Theft Hotline (877-438-4338). Also complete IRS form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit. You may be forced to file your tax returns on paper in the meantime. If you do not get a prompt response from the IRS, call the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 for assistance.
Spear-phishing to crack your bank and brokerage accounts
The data made available through the Equifax breach is also likely to spur what are known as “spear-phishing” scams that could put more than your credit at risk. Phishing scams are often unsophisticated email and phone cons aimed at getting you to reveal private data, such as your Social Security number.
Spear-phishing cons use your real data — the type of data compromised in the Equifax breach — to mimic legitimate communication from your bank or broker. The email may urge you to click on a link or open a PDF file to check your account or verify a transaction. However, if you click on the link, you could be downloading malicious software on your computer that would allow the crook to hijack your system or record your keystrokes.
How to Protect Yourself
• Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com, a free website jointly operated by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The site was created in order to comply with their obligations under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to provide a mechanism for American consumers to receive up to three free credit reports per year.
Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
• Place a credit freeze on your files: A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. It will only cost about $20 to freeze your account with all three credit agencies (Equifax is free, and the other two are typically $10 each), and you can easily do a temporary unfreeze ny phone if you need to when applying for new credit.
A few minutes on the phone with an automated system, plus $20, is much better than the nightmare that will ensue if your identity is stolen. Here are the phone numbers to initiate a credit freeze
Experian: 1 888 397 3742
You must call all three!
• Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
• Place a fraud alert on your files: If you decide against a credit freeze, at least consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
• File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
The best advice after the Equifax breach is if you get an email from your bank, broker, or credit card issuer and believe it’s legitimate, visit the company’s website or call their toll-free number. Do not click on the link.
Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.
Planning to Protect Loved Ones
Protecting seniors from scams is very important, which is why we continually share information about current scams and how you can protect yourself. It is also very important to plan for your future and for your loved ones. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long- term care, please contact us to make an appointment for a no-cost introductory consultation.