The Greatest Hack Of All Time, And What To Do NOW
Given my passion for professional and college baseball, you might think I am about to tell you about the feats of Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, or Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, the current leading home run hitters in the American and National Leagues. Or perhaps Dave Kingman, aka King Kong,
I couldn’t wait to watch Kingman hit. It was either a strikeout, or seemingly one of the longest HRs you’d ever see hit. For those of you not in the know of baseball, a “great hack” is a compliment. For the batter, it means they hit the hell out of the ball, even if it wasn’t over the fence.
Unfortunately, the “greatest hack” I’m writing you about isn’t related to baseball, but rather the biggest cybersecurity breach in U.S. history (even bigger than Target’s), thanks to Equifax, the oldest of the three largest American credit agencies. In case you’ve been oblivious to the news since last weekend, criminals have accessed the personal data of about 143 million U.S. consumers, including full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, driver license numbers.
In the outline below, I’m summarizing what you should do, and how.
First Off, Determine If Your Data Has Been Breached
The first step would be to go to the Equifax website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. A box will pop up and ask you for the last 6 digits of your Social Security number and your last name. Then check the box that says “I am not a Robot,” and hit submit. You will then get one of two messages back.
For myself, the message said “Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.” That’s a nice way of saying “someone has stolen your personal data.” Follow along here. Even if you get the other message that says “we don’t believe your information has been impacted,” it will not change the advice we are following and outlining below.
Simply put, unless you are in the middle of applying for some type of credit (mortgage, equity line, credit card), you should freeze your credit now, not only with Equifax, but will all three reporting agencies (the others are TransUnion and Experian). If you need credit, it is fairly simple to temporarily lift a security freeze, by supplying the 10-digit personal identification number (PIN) that you will be provided with along with other information regarding the third party who needs access to your credit file (example, Chase Bank).
Just remember this is the safest way to guard your credit and identity theft given the magnitude of this security breach. Normally, there is a small fee of $10 or $20 to place or lift a security freeze, but given the public backlash, Equifax is providing this for free for at least the next 30 days. At present, both TransUnion and Experian have not responded to media requests (even from the NY Times) as to whether they are going to charge consumers for this service.
Don’t Waste Your Time Calling Them Or Going Online
We did a real-time test this afternoon while we were meeting with a client, and my partner, Steve Medland, went online to the Equifax website and attempted to freeze his credit online. Here’s what came back:
“We’re sorry……we cannot process your online request concerning an Equifax security freeze. To assist us in processing your request, please submit in writing the required items outlined below.”
The bottom line is, the servers handling the web traffic for all three credit reporting agencies are so overwhelmed, they cannot handle the requests. So, instead of getting frustrated with your computer or sitting on hold with some customer service hotline for who knows how many minutes, the easiest thing to do is simply write a letter to each of the three agencies and mail it to them. Below is what you need to include in the letter.
For all security freeze requests, please submit the following ID information: your complete name, including any suffix (e.g. Jr., Sr., etc.), complete address, Social Security number and date of birth. Please send your required personal ID information and mail to:
Equifax Information Services
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
TransUnion LLC Security Freeze
P O Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Even though the data breach occurred with Equifax, it is not enough to place a credit freeze with just them. You should do it with all three agencies.
A Few Things To Remember
As we noted above, based on your state’s law, there may be a fee for placing or lifting a freeze, or for obtaining a replacement PIN if you lose it or forget it. A security freeze remains on your credit file until you remove it, so you will need to plan ahead and unfreeze it before you apply for new credit.
In addition, as I reported in an earlier newsletter on the topic of credit monitoring services such as LifeLock, which typically charge about $120 per year to “watch over” your credit, once you have a credit freeze in place, you have no need for the services of LifeLock. There’s nothing for them to monitor. You’re just throwing money away. On a personal note, I got lazy last November on our renewal date when I intended to cancel LifeLock and place a credit freeze on my own file and my wife’s, and since I believe there were no refunds once you allowed a renewal, I figured I would just wait until this November. Here we are.
Lastly, for couples, each of you need to place a freeze on your own data. It is not good enough for a husband to place a freeze while his wife does nothing, or vice versa.
Should you need any assistance with any of the above, or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Steve or myself. We’re here to help (unlike Equifax and company).
Our Digital World—-Get Used To It
As the Internet has grown in stature and use, and the use of smart phones has proliferated all over the world, the growth of cyber crimes and security breaches of personal consumer data has grown exponentially. The current Equifax “hack” is the greatest of all time—-until next month or soon thereafter, when undoubtedly there will be one even bigger. It is part of the convenience we all pay for the world we live in, which undoubtedly is a better world than it was 10 years ago before the advent of smart phones. But, it does not come without consequences. Take the time to protect yourself. When the company whose job it is to protect your data gets hacked, it is easy to assume that your data is not safe anywhere. So, a credit freeze is one of the best ways to protect yourself.
Carry On My Wayward Son—The Markets
This update is intended to almost solely focus on the Equifax mess, so I will have a more normal monthly piece in a couple of weeks, including our customary dose of humor at the end. For now, though, several stock indexes, including the S&P 500, are at all time highs as of today. Whether it be hurricanes, North Korean missiles, or the mess we call Congress, financial markets continue to shrug off events and go higher. By the way, that is not happening with Equifax stock, which in just the one week since the news broke, has collapsed from 142 to 93, a -34% loss. The company is facing likely millions of dollars in litigation plus a Federal investigation. Hey, the worst that can happen is the stock can go to zero.
For now, the technicals continue to support higher prices in the overall equity markets. Next week, though, the Fed will meet and likely announce they are going to stop reinvesting the interest payments from their massive bond portfolio. This is a form of tightening monetary policy, and all we can do is watch to see how markets react. Eventually, this bull market will end, but it is not probable right now.
Thanks for your continued trust and confidence in all of us at TABR.
Bob Kargenian, CMT
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