Your Personal Info Has Been Stolen—What to Do

Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, announced yesterday that criminals had accessed the personal information of about 143 million Americans, more than half the adult population.  According to Equifax, “The information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.”  And over 200,000 credit card numbers.  Odds are that your personal information is out there due to this breach or maybe another one.  So what should you do?

Piggy bank

First off, don’t panic.  This probably isn’t the first time some of your information has been compromised and it won’t be the last.  Financial institutions know that this threat is out there and they are constantly vigilant in protecting your funds.  At Vintage we’ve seen a progressive move toward tighter and tighter restrictions on access to financial information and the movement of funds, even between your own accounts.  There’s a tradeoff between security and convenience and we’ve worked hard to make our client’s lives easier, but don’t be surprised when we need to request additional documentation to access your funds or account information.

The type of information gained in the Equifax breach wouldn’t be enough to allow someone to move funds from your brokerage account to someone else’s account.  That kind of a transaction requires written authorization, typically verified with multiple methods, sometimes including your verbal confirmation.  And, of course, they’d need your account number in addition to other information.

What happens much more frequently is credit card fraud.  In the Equifax case only about 200,000 credit card numbers were compromised, but there are lots of other breaches that have involved credit cards.  The credit card companies fight a constant battle against this and are generally very good about catching unauthorized charges.  In fact, one of my own credit cards was compromised over the past few days with multiple charges including one in Mexico.  Fortunately the credit card companies are typically liable for any losses above $50 and they often cover all unauthorized charges.  It is a nuisance, though, when they close your account and reissue a new card, especially if you have recurring charges set up.

You’ll want to keep an eye on your credit card charges to note any fraudulent charges.  If you’re concerned, you can log on to the card company website to see the latest transactions instead of waiting for your next bill.  Report any suspicious charges to the credit card company promptly and they’ll take it from there.

Another possibility is that the criminals will attempt to use your personal information to open a credit card in your name.  This is one reason that it’s a good idea to check your credit report at least annually to ensure that there are no accounts listed that you don’t recognize.  Check it out at  

There are free credit monitoring services available that will alert you to changes on your credit report or hard inquiries that may signal someone opening a new account.  Check out the free service at Credit Karma.

The good news from the Equifax breach is that they are offering several services for free for the next year for all Americans, regardless of whether you were affected by their breach.  In addition to the usual free credit report and ability to lock your credit report, they are offering $1 million in Identity Theft Insurance and a Social Security Number Monitoring service that searches suspicious websites for your number.

Go to the Equifax site to find out if your information was in the latest breach and to enroll in the free services.  You can’t fully enroll at once, but they will give you a future date in a few days when you can return and sign up.  

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