What to do about the Equifax data breach
While many of us were dealing with hurricane Irma, Equifax had its own disaster affecting 143 million Americans. Equifax is one of four credit reporting agencies which collect and report information about your bill payment history, current debt, known addresses and other financial information. Apparently, hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Hackers also stole credit card numbers for 209,000 people.
In light of the Equifax breach, we recommend you consider the following:
- As always, be wary of scams. Be careful if you receive an email from Equifax which asks you to click on a link. It is inevitable that fraudsters will be sending emails pretending to be Equifax. A best practice is to ignore requests to click a link and instead find the company’s website independently and use the link you find there.
- To find out if your information was compromised, go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ You will be prompted to enter your last name and the last six digits of your SSN.
- After you learn if your personal information was exposed, you will receive an offer from Equifax to sign up for one year of complimentary identity theft protection and credit monitoring. This is not nearly as much protection as a credit freeze but if someone tries to take out a credit card or loan in your name, you’ll find out about it immediately and may be able to manage the issue. There were media reports that if you accepted Equifax’s monitoring offer you would give up your right to sue Equifax, but those reports appear to be false. Nonetheless, if that is a concern, there are plenty of other monitoring services to choose from for a fee.
Lock down your credit with a freeze
As we have mentioned in the past, security experts consistently say the strongest form of protection against identity theft is a credit freeze. If you have frozen your credit, it is unlikely this incident or possible future breaches will be a problem with credit-related identity theft even if your information was compromised. If you haven’t put on a credit freeze, consider doing so.
“…security experts consistently say the strongest form of protection against identity theft is a credit freeze.”
All four credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Transunion, and Innovis) give you the ability to freeze your credit. This means no one can access your credit report, including you, until you lift the freeze. You are safer from identity theft because most lenders will not offer a loan to anyone if they can’t check their credit first. An identity thief pretending to be you will hit a virtual concrete wall and move on to easier prey.
Equifax is offering freezes for free through October 10, 2017 and at this writing, the other bureaus are considering waiving their freeze fees. Normally, there is a nominal cost to freeze and unfreeze your credit. Costs vary by state but in Florida, the fee is typically $10 per freeze/unfreeze.
To place a freeze, contact each of the nationwide credit reporting companies below:
You will need to unfreeze your credit when you apply for a new credit card, loan, mortgage, sign up for a new cell phone plan, a new utility company or need to have another third party (potential landlord, employer, insurer) access your credit report. According to the FTC, a credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request. A freeze can be annoying if you forget to unfreeze your credit before applying. But as long as you remember to thaw your credit three days before it is needed, processing will not be impeded. That annoyance is minimal compared to correcting a bogus loan taken out by someone pretending to be you.
Slow down identity thieves with a security fraud alert
While freezes are the most effective means of deterring identity thieves, some hesitate to freeze their credit because they fear losing or forgetting their PIN and not being able to unfreeze their credit without a substantial amount of hassle. (Don’t forget your PIN!)
Another option is to file a “security fraud alert.” When you file an alert with one bureau, they must report it to the other bureaus on your behalf. With an alert, a thief can still apply for credit in your name and the lender will get a credit report but these alerts notify a lender or merchant to take “reasonable steps” to verify your identity before extending credit. The typical annoyance with alerts is that extra step of contacting you directly, usually by phone, or requesting additional documentation which can slow down an approval process. Fraud alerts can be temporary (90 days) or extended (7 years). Alerts are free and do not affect your credit score.
Credit is just one aspect of identity theft
Credit freezes and fraud alerts protect you from having a thief take out bogus loans in your name but they do not protect you from other forms of fraud like tax related scams. You must continue to remain diligent and take steps to enhance your cybersecurity.
Don’t be an easy target. We monitor your investment accounts closely but you should also check all your bank, credit, and other accounts periodically. Review you credit reports regularly. By law you can review them for free annually at annualcreditreport.com Secure your systems and devices. Refer to our most recent briefing, Cybersecurity: What You Need to Know, for tips.
Tax Relief for Irma-affected areas
The IRS is extending deadlines for filing and paying taxes to residents of Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, DeSoto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sumter and Volusia counties as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In addition, the IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records (necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period) are in an affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.
According to the IRS release, affected individuals and businesses will have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period.
“…affected individuals and businesses will have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period.”
This includes the Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018 deadlines for making quarterly estimated tax payments. For individual tax filers, it also includes 2016 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until Oct. 16, 2017. The IRS noted, however, that because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, those payments are not eligible for this relief.
Few taxpayers will be eligible but it is notable that individuals and businesses who suffered Irma-related damage to property may be able to claim losses on either their 2017 return or the return for the prior year (2016). See the IRS briefing on what it takes to qualify to claim a loss and Publication 547 for even more details. The biggest hurdle to overcome in claiming hurricane losses is that only uninsured or unreimbursed losses that exceed 10% of your Adjusted Gross Income are deductible.
Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo, LLC is an Orlando, Tampa and Melbourne, Florida based fee-only financial planner serving central Florida and clients across the country. Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo, LLC specializes in providing objective financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management to help clients build, manage, grow, and protect their assets through all phases of one’s life and the many transitions in between. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything further, please give us a call or send us a note. If you are not a client and wish to receive emails notifying you of new posts – no more than once per month – fill out the subscription information in the sidebar to the right. For more frequent updates, follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
Important Additional Information & Disclosures
Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo, LLC-“MFT”), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful.
Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from MFT.
Please remember that if you are a MFT client, it remains your responsibility to advise MFT, in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services, or if you would like to impose, add, or to modify any reasonable restrictions to our investment advisory services. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. MFT is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. Tax advice is given only to clients and only when agreed to by MFT. A copy of the MFT’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request.
Please Note: MFT does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to MFT’s web site or blog or incorporated herein, and takes no responsibility for any such content. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly.
Please Note: Limitations: While MFT does NOT pay for recognition, awards, or publicity, neither rankings and/or recognition by unaffiliated rating services, publications, or other organizations, nor the achievement of any designation or certification, should be construed by a client or prospective client as a guarantee that he/she will experience a certain level of results if MFT is engaged, or continues to be engaged, to provide investment advisory services. Rankings published by magazines, and others, generally base their selections exclusively on information prepared and/or submitted by the recognized adviser. Rankings are generally limited to participating advisers. No ranking or recognition should be construed as a current or past endorsement of MFT by any of its clients. ANY QUESTIONS: MFT’s Chief Compliance Officer remains available to address any questions regarding rankings and/or recognitions, including providing the criteria used for any reflected ranking.
Historical performance results for investment indices, benchmarks, and/or categories have been provided for general informational/comparison purposes only, and generally do not reflect the deduction of transaction and/or custodial charges, the deduction of an investment management fee, nor the impact of taxes, the incurrence of which would have the effect of decreasing historical performance results. It should not be assumed that your MFT account holdings correspond directly to any comparative indices or categories. Please Also Note: (1) performance results do not reflect the impact of taxes; (2) comparative benchmarks/indices may be more or less volatile than your MFT accounts; and, (3) a description of each comparative benchmark/index is available upon request.