You Are Only Worth $10
Following the Equifax data breach, information on 143 million Americans has been sold
After getting out of bed this morning, it was tough learning that I, Glen Weinberg, was worth roughly the price of two Starbucks coffees. Not that it made me feel any better, but so are you. Unfortunately, we are in good company with roughly 143 million other Americans whose information was compromised.
According to a recent Bloomberg report, an underground hacker market is selling full files: “dossiers that provide enough financial, geographic and biographical information on a victim to facilitate identity theft or other impersonation-based fraud” for as little as $10 apiece.
I assume (unless you have been living under a rock) that you have by now heard of the large data breach that occurred at Equifax that compromised information on 143 million Americans. This is not your average data heist! If you weren’t aware the credit agencies have amassed data on most Americans including driver’s license numbers, addresses, cell phones, business information, etc ... All of this information was just sold to someone for as little as $10.
More than likely your data was compromised and is now floating around the “dark web” waiting to be used by an unscrupulous criminal. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that can mitigate the fallout from the “sale”. But, time is of the essence; if you do not act quickly you are out of luck.
What do you need to do today? These are no-brainers that will save you’re a** if you were compromised.
- Lock down your accounts: This is a simple process. For all your bank, credit card and other sensitive accounts enable Dual Authentication. What does this mean? When I log into my bank account, I put in my username and password, it then sends a text message to my cell phone with a random code that is valid for 5 minutes. I have to input this code to “authenticate” my account and finish the login process. Essentially it puts in one additional layer of protection to help thwart a hijacking of your account. This service is free with the vast majority of banks, credit unions, etc… If you bank does not have this technology switch your accounts now!
- Put on alerts: Even though you locked down your accounts it is also important to monitor your accounts. I have alerts on my bank and credit card accounts so if there is any transaction more than $50 I get an email or text. This will allow me to know instantly if there is suspicious activity.
- Get a copy of your credit report: The credit agencies must provide you with a free credit report each year (you do not need to sign up for anything to get this report). Review each report to see if there are any suspicious items on the report
Over the next few weeks (or sooner) you need to take additional steps. There are a number of different steps you can take to further protect yourself. Your solution will depend on how “secure” and/or inconvenienced you want to be in regard to your personal information. As a lender myself, I’ve seen the effects of identity thefts on credit, seen the fraud alerts, and debated what to do. Here are the options:
- Credit monitoring: In my opinion this is a waste of money. It is a bit laughable that Equifax, who just exposed my data, now wants me to “trust them” to monitor my information that they lost in the first place. I don’t need someone to tell me there is a problem, I would much rather prevent a problem than just spot one after the fact. Credit monitoring is a band aide solution.
- Fraud Alert: You call each of the three credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian, Equifax) and ask that they put a “fraud alert” on the file. This lasts for 90 days and lenders are supposed to verify your identity before extending credit
- Extended Fraud Alert: If you’re information was compromised, you can request each of the credit bureaus put a fraud alert on your account. This is the same as above but lasts for 6 years.
- Credit Freeze: This “freezes” your credit so that a lender is unable to pull your credit that you don’t already have a relationship with (for example your current bank that you have a mortgage with would be able to access your credit). Basically you “lock” your credit with a PIN (personal identification number) for each of the three credit bureaus. You therefore have to “unlock” your credit when needed (for example to get a car loan).
The FTC put out an article: credit freeze or fraud alert which is right for you which goes through the pros and cons of the various options.
What did I do and why? The laws of probability show that there is a 60 percent chance or greater that I was compromised (remember you have the same odds!) so I knew I had to do something. I debated for a while what the proper solution was. The two finalists for me were either extended fraud alert or credit freeze.
1. Extended Fraud Alert:
- Pro: The biggest pro for this option was it didn’t totally lock down my credit. If I wanted to get a new credit card, car, etc… I didn’t have to “unlock” my credit each time which was much more convenient. There was also no cost to setup this option.
- Con: I wonder how much this would actually stop a determined criminal. It is not nearly as secure as a credit freeze since a lender could still pull a credit report
2. Credit Freeze:
- Pro: This is the most secure solution. There is a PIN that must be utilized before pulling your credit.
- Con: It costs to put the freeze on (it was waived recently due to the breach). Every time you need credit (mortgage, car, new CC, apartment, utility, etc..) you must unfreeze your credit. Each bureau charges around ten dollars each time you unfreeze your credit and it can take a day or so before the lock is taken off. This is definitely an inconvenience for most people.
After looking at the options, I chose to go with a credit freeze. Although a credit freeze is inconvenient and costs more, I chose the most secure solution. I was not confident that a fraud alert would stop someone from gaining credit in my name. A credit freeze was the only option that locked down my information so that it was exponentially harder for a criminal to exploit.
How can you do the same? It was fairly simple to do a credit freeze. It took me a little over an hour to set it up at the three credit bureaus. Make sure you store your PIN in a safe place since they will be needed to remove the freeze. A well-known consumer advocate in Atlanta did an extensive guide that walks you through the process of freezing your credit and removing the freeze when needed. Note that all the credit bureaus are having capacity issues as they are inundated with requests. Keep trying and eventually you will get it done.
I’m still amazed that I’m only worth $10 and so are you. Your actions, or lack thereof, can determine whether you are a victim. The steps above will help protect your accounts and mitigate the probability of becoming a victim. It is unbelievable that someone can basically ruin your credit in a matter of hours. Are you going to let a criminal take over your identity for $10?