Last Thursday’s announcement of the Equifax breach was a monumental moment for personal financial security. Nearly 44% of Americans had their social security numbers exposed by hackers. Here’s what you can do about it.
Set your assumptions
I was included in the breach. Chances are you were too. Equifax’s security check tool will only tell you if you specifically weren’t included in the breach. That’s how likely it is. You can check here.
Security experts like Jeremiah Grossman, chief of security strategy of SentinelOne say, “While it may not be explicitly true, we have to operate under the assumption that everyone’s social security number has been stolen.”
Know your SSN history
Social Security Numbers today are used for entirely different purposes than they were intended. Originally devised for governmental purposes, they are now deeply entrenched in credit tracking. Businesses that depend on you paying what you owe — mortgage, rent, cable, electric, etc. — use companies like Equifax to determine if you are a financially reliable customer. That’s why SSNs are all over rental, utility and hospital forms. Unlike your credit card number, SSNs never change. That’s why they are particularly valuable to identity thieves.
Protect your most vital information: Passwords
This breach should be taken seriously, however it is not the greatest threat to your finances. Usernames and passwords are far more important than SSNs.
Use respected programs, like LastPass, which use sophisticated and thoughtful security measures to protect your digital life. LastPass uses IP address tracking, country access points and dual factor authentication with your cell phone, and more. It’s not entirely bulletproof, but it’s good enough. I use it and if I had to choose just one security tool, this would be it.
Gum up the system
Some financial organizations have adopted clever solutions that are not entirely obvious. Snail mail and individual phone calls make great security tools for one reason: they’re slow. For its most important digital forms, the IRS will mail a physical piece of paper to your home with a temporary password. Impatient and efficient hackers are not going to waste their time trying to steal your mail, house by house, for access. Likewise, Fidelity calls customers during large transfer requests for verbal verification. It seems inefficient, but it works.
In short, the breach is shocking, but I’m not too worried about it. If you’re worried and want to have an additional conversation, please call us.
You might like this article on New Technology for Estates because it also talks about security.
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