Several clients have contacted us with questions following the data breach that occurred at Equifax last week.
Below is information that we hope you will find helpful:
• What/Who is Equifax?
Equifax is one of the three primary credit reporting agencies. The other two are Experian and TransUnion.
• What personal information does Equifax have?
The three credit reporting agencies have names, birthdates, addresses (both current & historical), Social Security numbers, previous and current credit history, and in some cases driver’s license numbers.
• How many people were affected?
Equifax has reported that 143 million people were potentially affected. As a reference, the US had a total population of 323 million people as of 2016, so roughly 44% of the US population was affected.
• How can I see if my information was impacted?
You can visit the Equifax website at www.equifax.com and follow the steps on their homepage to determine if your information may have been compromised. The Equifax website will require that register and complete a short form to see if your information may have been compromised.
• What other steps should I take to protect my identity?
o We highly recommend that you enroll in a credit monitoring service, such as LifeLock. The cost for such a service ranges from $9.99/month to $29.99/month. In general, the service will monitor your credit and alert you in the event of a potential threat. Also, if your identity is compromised they will assist you in working to fix it and if funds are stolen LifeLock will reimburse you (the amount depends on which membership you get). There are also other firms that offer credit monitoring services, which you can find by searching the web.
o Another step that is being discussed is doing a “credit freeze”. A credit freeze is a more drastic step than credit monitoring. A credit freeze typically prevents lenders from accessing your credit report, although it doesn’t affect existing loans or credit cards. To learn more about how a Credit Freeze works, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
• What happens if my bank account, brokerage account or credit cards become compromised?
Given how common it has become for large institutions to have their systems “hacked” and for customer information to be compromised, banks, brokerage firms, and credit card companies have enacted procedures to protect client’s assets and credit, in the event of fraudulent activity. For example, TD Ameritrade Institutional and Charles Schwab Institutional offer account holders an asset protection guarantee, which states that they will reimburse you for any cash or securities that are lost due to “unauthorized” activity. The same also goes for credit cards. If someone fraudulently uses your credit card, you will not be responsible for paying for the charge. The credit card company will remove the charge from your account (after confirming that there was fraudulent activity).
• What steps does ARS Wealth Advisors take to protect your accounts?
ARS takes the protection of your information and accounts very seriously. We monitor the account activity (buys/sells/withdrawals/etc.) daily and will alert you directly if we see anything suspicious. Also, we will never send money out of an account to a 3rd party (someone other than yourself) without verbally verifying the request with you, as well as getting your signature on a “funds transfer” form.