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How to Maintain your Identity’s Integrity in the Digital Age: 6 Tips on How to Deal with the Equifax Data Breach

How to Deal with the Equifax Data Breach: An Important Update from CenTek

By:  Shoshana R. Cohen

 

Here are 6 tips produced in-house by the experts at CenTek on how you can maintain the integrity of your identity.  As you all know, Equifax’s database was compromised. This breach is

major because it potentially exposed sensitive information of up to 143 million Americans. As one of the 3 major credit reporting agencies, Equifax holds data relating to names, birth dates, addresses, social security numbers, and driver’s licenses. In addition to this private information listed above, the breach may also leave up to 209,000 U.S. consumers vulnerable due to leaked credit card numbers and another 182,000 consumers exposed due to hacked dispute documents.

Even though information regarding the breach was released by Equifax during the first week of September, reports show that the company’s database was compromised in May. Therefore, hackers have already had 4 months to possibly obtain one’s information and sell it to others who either have opened new accounts or intend to open new accounts in the future.

Going forward into the age of digitalization, it is crucial that everyone continually monitors his or her personal financial and social security profiles. While there are a few automated computer services we suggest, it is still imperative that one directly monitors his or her accounts. Ultimately, the hope is that if taken care of correctly, any data breach should be more of an emotional challenge than a financial burden.   

Tip #1: Check to see if you were affected

It is essential that each person know whether his or her information was compromised. Equifax set up a website at https://trustedidpremier.com/eligibility/eligibility.html where people can see if they were affected.

Tip #2: Order a free credit report

Even if one’s profile was not compromised during this breach, it is still useful to partake in the following procedures to minimize the future impact of stolen identity.

Federal law states that one can order a free copy of his or her credit report from each of the three major credit report agencies once per year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Please note that this is the only website that is authorized by the Federal Trade Commission where one can redeem his or her free annual 3 Credit Bureau report. Once the report is received, please analyze it row by row to ensure that everything is updated and factual.

Tip #3: Monitor your account

After obtaining his or her credit report, an individual can monitor his or her credit using a computer program. Because of the breach, Equifax consumers can enroll in its “TrustedId Premier” program at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/enroll/ for free.

In this program, Equifax will monitor your credit and protect your identity from theft for free for a year. Equifax has clarified that signing up for this free credit file monitoring service and ID theft protection program will not waive the consumer’s right to take legal action.

After the complementary year of ID Premier is over, consumers will not be automatically enrolled into the service, which has retailed for $19.95 a month in the past.

Additionally, it is important that consumers are aware of phishing scams. Criminals prey on consumers who are interested in credit monitoring and freezes by sending legitimate looking emails. Double check that each website used is spelled correctly. Furthermore, if one does decide to extend his or her Equifax monitoring program beyond the complimentary year, be sure to do so with Equifax directly and not with a third-party.

Tip #4: Create an online account with the Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Equifax hack leaked enough information for a thief to set up an online SSA account. This is portal on the Social Security Administration website where one can monitor his or her social security benefits history, including social security earnings history and where the money is sent to.  Especially if one is nearing the age of 62, it is important to create an account on  https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do before an unknown third-party opens one. 

Gather together all the appropriate paperwork to open an account, as the portal asks about specific accounts to verify one’s identity. An individual will be locked out of his or her account for 24 hours if any answers are incorrect. Additionally, it is important to note that if one placed a security freeze or fraud alert on his or her credit, the individual will have to remove the freeze prior to opening an online SSA account or go into a physical SSA office to open an account there.

Tip #5: If adamant about a proactive approach, consider placing a fraud alert instead of freezing your credit

Many issues arise when one freezes his or her account. The notion of freezing credit is misleading, as it provides a false sense of safety and protection. Simply put, a frozen credit line means that someone cannot open a line of credit during the period that credit is frozen.

Freezing one’s credit is not a short-term activity because it prevents anyone (including oneself) from applying for another line of credit or from requesting a credit report in one’s name. This is not only  problematic for people who are seeking financing for a home, but also for people who want to do mundane things create a new phone line account or buy a new phone.

When one places a fraud alert on his or her personal account, businesses must verify an individual’s identity before they extend a new line of credit. However, a fraud alert only lasts for 90 days and does not typically renew itself automatically. If one is a verified victim of identity fraud, one is eligible to extend fraud alert up to a duration of 7 years.

Tip #6: Be aware of tax-related identity theft

Tax-related identity theft is among the major scams for the IRS. Even if one decides to freeze his or her credit or if one monitors his or her credit closely, he or she can be a victim of tax-related identity theft. The Equifax breach leaked enough information for someone to file a fake tax return.

The IRS also has an online portal at https://www.irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account where one can set up an account to monitor his or her payoff amount, balance for each tax year, 18-month payment history, and information for the current tax year.  With this tool, one can monitor their present and past tax payments and track their refunds.

According to tax laws, employers do file W-2 forms with the Social Security Administration, not the IRS. The SSA then forwards the name and number mismatches and then forwards the W-2 information to the IRS. Therefore, employer name and wage information listed on a tax return can get approved, even if it does not match the employee’s W-2 form.

However, please be aware that one does not necessarily need to rush to file your tax returns. Because of the nature of one’s employment, one may not be eligible to file their returns completely until the deadline. Yet, it is important to monitor your account through the deadline, so that no one files taxes in your name before you do. Please note that this portal is updated every 24 hours with about a 1-3 week lag period.

Thank you for your time.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and financially safe new year!

Gloria, Curtis, and the CenTek Team

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Important Purchase Tips

A few general concepts to help you prevail with your potential offer.  Please contact us and we will strategize together how to submit an offer as it relates to financing, based on our extensive experiences. The market is requiring aggressive posturing with multiple offers being so frequently at play and the current competition being so intense.

Important concepts to consider for purchases:

  • Loan package must be fully ready to issue disclosures when there is finally an open escrow.
  • 30 day closes are possible with many transactions.
  • We can issue DU (direct underwriting) approval upfront for many programs (which means you are officially approved for the loan).
  • Another common technique is to cut an appraisal contingency down to 5 days.
  • Never waive an inspection contingency.
  • With condos, the listing agent should provide contact HOA phone numbers at the opening of escrow (Naturally your agent would have vetted the property pre your offer).

A few random thoughts to help you get to the escrow level:

  • Waiving all conditions ASAP.
  • Release of the deposit– if money is needed by the seller and you are approved.
  • Offer a 30 day lease back if the seller does not have a new property for the relocation.

These are just a few important thoughts to proceed with a successful purchase.