We sent a message last week giving you a lot to think about and are grateful for your responses.  We learned that our clients differed in the level of precaution they wished to take in response to the Equifax episode and in light of the possibility that these kinds of data breaches may become the norm in our evolving electronic world. Depending on where you lie on the spectrum of precaution you’d like to take, we recommend the following:

High level of precaution:

We recommend freezing your credit reports with the three credit bureaus (this does not affect your existing credit cards, mortgages, lines of credit, etc.):

https://www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze or by calling (888) 397-3742

https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp or by calling (888) 909-8872

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp or by calling (800) 349-9960

Freezing credit reports restricts access to them unless lifted by the respective credit bureaus.  If applying for credit or opening certain types of accounts (credit cards, mortgages, equity lines, car loans, lease payments on phones, cars, etc.), you will first need to contact all three credit bureaus, or the one the creditor uses if they can provide you with this information, to unfreeze.  There are fees ($5 to $15) to freeze and unfreeze (the PIN you received at time of initiating the freeze is needed to unfreeze).  More information can be found here:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.

Mid-level of precaution:

We recommend subscribing to a credit/identity monitoring service.  There are many options ranging in price and the comprehensiveness of services provided.  Credit monitoring is offered by Experian (IdentityWorks), TransUnion (True Identity) and Equifax (TrustedID Premier) and companies like LifeLock (https://www.lifelock.com/products/) and Identity Guard (https://www.identityguard.com/compare-plans/).  Services include tracking and alerting you to activity on your credit reports and monitoring and alerting you when your personal information is being used in ways that don’t show up on your credit reports.  More info:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0235-identity-theft-protection-services.

Low level of precaution (if choosing one of the above approaches, the following should be done in any case): 

We recommend reviewing your credit reports throughout the year.  You can request a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau once per year at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.  This allows you to review your report three times a year for free.  Suspicious activity should be reported to Experian, TransUnion or Equifax respectively.  Additionally, it is important to 1) review credit card, bank, brokerage and other financial statements for unusual activity and 2) regularly update your online passwords, taking advantage of two-factor authentication when available.

We understand situations and levels of desired precaution are unique to each person, so please reach out to your advisor if you’d like to discuss.  We’re happy to talk more about what would be best for you.

With best wishes,

Joe Martin