So my Mom got a letter in the mail apologizing to her regarding a recent data breach from her long term care plan. No – this wasn’t related to the latest Equifax data breach but apparently her medical information and personal data were compromised. Ok great- here we go again! We’ve all been the victims of breaches or compromises in the past – major retailers like Target and Home Depot have hit several million people including myself, some health insurers such as Anthem and even our US government have been hacked leaving much of our personal details openly exposed and leaving us vulnerable. Who would have thought that those large companies and institutions like Equifax that are geared toward tracking our credit histories and behaviors would be involved in a massive breach! Folks it seems like it doesn’t matter, if you are breathing, alive and have a pulse, you may have been affected by some type of data compromise. Someone is always watching and mining data. Yeah… I know that you are wondering -what can I do???
I can’t really say that there’s much you can do to prevent it because all of our data is readily out there and shared by many outlets. Just do a google search and any of these services can tell you who your relatives are for a small fee –anyone can get their hands on your info. If you subscribe to magazines, have a credit card, an email address or just live your daily life – you have data that somebody wants! We pray that someone will only use it for good once they have it but not everyone has the best of intentions. As a caregiver, it’s your job to serve and protect your loved one right? I know you’re saying awe c’mon Denise – not something else that I have to do. Well I’m sorry to say that yes you do, but I promise you that it’s simple and not that labor intensive. You can follow the few simple steps to protect your loved one. Chances are that you are managing their affairs anyway and hopefully they are under strict orders (like what I’ve given my Mom – most of the time she listens ..lol) not to authorize something unless you give the ok right? If not, that’s a conversation you need to have and we can chat about that a little later. It’s important that you stay on top of your loved one’s accounts because if something happens you’ll be handling it later.
Here’s 3 things that you can do now to protect your loved one’s important info along with yours. Once you’re done follow the steps to protect yourself too!
- Contact the 3 major credit bureaus:
- Equifax, PO Box 74021, Atlanta, GA 30374, www.equifax.com 1-800-685-1111
- Experian, PO Box 2104, Allen, TX 75013, www.experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion, PO Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022, www.transunion.com, 1-800-888-4213
- Fraud Alert: You can place a fraud alert by calling one of the above credit bureaus. It tells creditors to contact you before they can change or open any new accounts. While it protects you, be mindful that it can delay any applications that you actually initiate when you seek new credit. However, I’d consider that to be a minor inconvenience when it comes to having protected measures on your account. Note that a fraud alert is only good for 90 days and is renewable. You may place an extended fraud alert which lasts for 7 years, however it requires a police report and an identity theft report. With the extended report, companies must remove your name from marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5 years unless you ask them to put your name back on the list.
- Security Freeze: You can place a security freeze which prevents credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent. There are 3 ways that you can do this: online, automated phone line, or via a written request to any of the above credit bureaus. There is a fee but it may be waived if you are the victim of identity theft and have submitted a complaint to a law enforcement agency or reported it to the credit reporting agencies. Be sure to have the following info on hand:
- Full name with middle initial and any suffixes
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Current address and any address for the previous 5 years
- Any incident report or complaint with a law enforcement agency or DMV
- Copy of a government issued identification
- Recent utility bill or bank or insurance statement
- Check your reports for free at www.annualcreditreport.com: You can check your reports for free at each of the three credit bureaus once a year through this site or you can call 1-877-322-8228. I recommend staggering them throughout the year – every 4 months request a free report from a different bureau. Request one today and mark off the date and in 4 months request one from the next credit bureau. At the same time each year expect to request a new report. This will help you to be on the alert for incidents of fraud and identity theft. Remember to review your account statements and monitor your credit report for unauthorized activity.
- Be aware of any potential scams: Expect an influx of calls, emails, and keep an eye on your sensitive data sent through the mail.
- Be aware of the web: For emails – don’t open any attachments or click on any links and be very wary of emails from anyone that you don’t know. If an email arrives from XYZ bank, take the extra step and access your account outside of that email in a separate browser tab. Don’t fall for the ransom emails or those claiming that they need help asking you to send money and your banking details to access it. These emails are often plagued with poor grammar and spelling.
- Be aware of scam phone calls: Unfortunately the Do Not Call Registry does not help. It was intended to stop unwanted calls but somehow they still make their way through thanks to robo callers (computer generated automatic calls) and companies that intend to get you to sign up for services or want you to believe that they are legitimate by asking for you by your first and/or last name – no we are not old familiar friends. Now scammers are texting and calling – don’t respond or call/text back unfamiliar numbers as you may be opening the door to getting hacked and giving access to your information.
- Shred all documents – Any credit card offers, receipts, medical EOBs (explanation of benefits), bills – anything that you no longer need that has your name, address, or any other sensitive information on it must be shredded. Don’t risk tearing it up and just throwing it in the trash.
Unfortunately, this is just a sign of the times that we live in. There are individuals out there that have goals to rob and steal rather than get things the old fashioned way for themselves through hard work and integrity. I want to encourage you not to worry. Be vigilant and proactive – follow the tips above and you can at least try to stay a step ahead by protecting your identity as you keep a closer watch on the accounts of those who you are caring for and yourself.
Remember you are on the frontlines and are the best advocate!
Until next time-