You did everything right, but still lost your financial information

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Be careful not to reveal too much personal information online, we’ve been warned. Don’t respond to “phishing” scams leading you to fake websites, and that Nigerian prince who wants to send you money? — you know the routine.

As it turns out, it’s all for naught.

Thanks to a data breach at one of the three main credit bureaus, your personal information, Social Security numbers, PINs, credit card numbers, banking information, is probably already out there.

Initially, a data breach at Equifax was said to have exposed vital data about 143 million Americans, but more recent information makes it increasingly likely that everyone is affected.

It doesn’t help the Equifax case to know that the hack was discovered on July 29 and not revealed for a month, or that three company executives sold a combined $1.8 million in stock after the hack was discovered, although the Equifax insists they “had no knowledge that an intrusion had occurred at the time they sold their shares.”

There’s also concern about “mandatory arbitration” language in customer contracts, although Equifax released a statement declaring that the arbitration requirement and waiver of class-action rights did not apply to this particular breach.

So assuming that your financial information is at risk — and there’s a good possibility it is — what should you do?

Unfortunately, the answer is to continue doing what you should already have been doing, with possibly one additional step.

* Closely monitor your own credit reports, which are available free once a year, staggering them to see one every four months.

* Stay vigilant, possibly for a long time. Scammers who get ahold of the data could use it at any time, and they could wait years to do it.

The additional step is to consider freezing your credit reports, which stops thieves from opening new credit cards or loans in your name, but does the same for you. If your credit report is frozen, you will need to lift the freeze before you can be approved.

The three main credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The number for Equifax is 800-685-1111, the number for Experian is 888-397-3742, and the number for TransUnion is 800-916-8800.

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