More on the Equifax breach, and how you can protect yourself

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Just as you think you are clear on the Equifax data breach, the landscape changes. Here is a quick review and update. Think of what follows like the beginning of part two in a "to be continued" teledrama.

Sometime in late July, hackers successfully broke into the files of Equifax, a credit rating company, and were able to access the personal data of about one-half of the adult population of the country. Data included Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card and bank account information, residential and family demographics and much more leading to unauthorized use of existing credit, applications for new credit or loans, and impersonation to facilitate criminal activity.

Current recommendations include registration for free credit monitoring from Equifax, obtaining credit freezes with all credit rating bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion), regularly reviewing bank and credit account activity online and when statements arrive, and obtaining copies of personal credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com (877-322-8228).

So much for the review; the latest information includes the following:

The July Equifax data breach was not a single event. Equifax was breached in March of this year. The company issued a statement that the two breaches were not related but it has been less than forthcoming with details. Equifax currently provides a web site for determining whether or not an individual's data is at risk. It guides users through a registration process for its data monitoring service for one year at no cost, but it is important to understand that one year of monitoring does not provide sufficient protection. While credit cards and bank accounts can be changed, Social Security numbers cannot and remain a possible open door to theft in the future.

Many people have encountered difficulty in registration for the service due to the high volume of consumer inquiries and registrations. This has led to frustration and anger. Even so, this is a critical action to take and should be pursued until success is achieved. Federal and State authorities are actively engaged in addressing this matter and several states are in the process of bringing litigation. Equifax offers consumers a credit freeze at no cost. A freeze prevents the opening of new accounts or loans but does not interfere with current financial accounts. We urge everyone to request a freeze with all credit bureaus but note that Experian and TransUnion charge a small fee for this service. At present, serious consideration is being given to litigation or legislation protecting consumers from this expense.

While the situation with Equifax involves an enormous security breach, the exact disposition of the data is unknown; who is in possession of the information and for what purpose will the information be used is unknown. Solving the Equifax breach will not halt the non-stop attempts to steal identities on phones, computers or through the mail. That means that constant vigilance is necessary. Contact your state Attorney General's Office if you are unsure of what steps to take or believe your information has been used: New York Attorney General - www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection; the Vermont Attorney General's Office - www.uvm.edu/consumer. More to come!

Old scam, new approach

Most people are aware of the scam in which the con artist impersonates a lottery official and attempts to collect money for processing fees or taxes on a prize (receipt of prize money never requires any advance payment). The new twist comes on the heels of state government announcements involving unclaimed monies. All states maintain lists of residents for whom money is available due to tax overpayments or refunds. This money is distributed without fee to those who are on the list and file a claim for their funds.

The scam involves individuals claiming to be State officials charged with distributing these funds. Individuals are called and told they are owed an amount of money by the State and asked to provide either payment of a processing fee or proof of identity such as a Social Security Number, address, and bank account information. These are fraudulent calls and you will not be personally contacted by state officials.

Unsure of where to go? Have questions and need assistance? Call the AARP National Fraud Watch Network helpline at (877) 908-3360.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network and can be reached at egreenblott@aarp.org.

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