Security Freeze and the Equifax Data Breach

Security freeze and Equifax data breach

Photo credit: Freeze by macreloaded.com courtesy of flickr.com. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode

When the news broke of the Equifax data breach, Rosa and I did not panic despite the likelihood that criminals possessed key personal information and had had it for three months. Stealing our identities would not be profitable because we had placed security freezes on our accounts at all three credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, years before the breach occurred.

What a security freeze does

A security freeze prevents potential creditors, landlords, employers, or insurers from accessing our credit files to determine our creditworthiness without our consent, a necessary step for taking out a loan, a line of credit, opening a revolving credit account (credit card), purchasing insurance, renting an apartment or house, and applying for a cell phone account or even a job. If our creditworthiness cannot be ascertained, applications for loans, credit accounts, insurance, rentals, and employment will be declined. Only existing creditors can access our files.

Credit card alerts

At the time we put security freezes on our credit bureau accounts, we also initiated alerts for our credit cards. Our credit card issuers alert us to all non-swipe transactions and any transaction that exceeds a specified amount. They also monitor for unusual credit card activity such as swipe transactions in locales outside our geographical region.

The combination of security freezes and credit card alerts protect us from the main sources of identity theft loss: unauthorized loans or credit accounts and unauthorized use of an existing credit card.

Implement safeguards before personal data is compromised

We put these safeguards in place years ago and that is the main point of this post. Once there has been a data breach and the privacy of your key personal information has been compromised, it is too late to implement security measures. Often the companies that have experienced a data breach do not detect it for weeks or months after the fact. Once detected, there is an additional delay before the breach is made public while the affected companies determine the extent of the breach and develop a response. All the while, your key personal information is in jeopardy of fraudulent use by criminals.

That is not to say you should not go ahead and implement safeguards such as security freezes on your credit bureau accounts and alerts on your credit cards, but your information may have already been used to open fraudulent accounts without your knowledge. That fraudulent activity may not show up for months or years.

Credit monitoring services are not the solution

Why not just use a credit monitoring service instead of going to the trouble of arranging security freezes and credit card alerts? Contracting a credit monitoring company to protect you only adds to your exposure because you have to give them your key personal information if they are to monitor the activity in your accounts. Who is to say the credit monitoring service will not experience a data breach? Now that a credit reporting agency has suffered a data breach, can any company be counted on to secure your personal information?

Your personal data has probably already been compromised

Many experts in the field of data security believe that nearly everyone’s personal information has been compromised by now, especially after the Equifax breach in which the records of over 143 million Americans were exposed. Do not wait to implement safeguards such as security freezes and credit card alerts to protect you from exposure to identity theft. See these posts for additional information: Credit Protection Nuclear Option and Use Alerts to Detect Fraudulent Use of Credit Cards.

Additional steps to safeguard your personal data

Take these additional steps to further protect yourself against identity theft:

  • Carefully review your credit card statements against your receipts to catch any unauthorized charges or errors that may have occurred during the billing cycle.
  • Reconcile your bank statements to assure accuracy and to identify any unauthorized transactions.
  • Shred all sensitive documents.
  • Have financial statements and other sensitive information sent to a P.O. Box instead of having them delivered to your home.
  • Do not print your driver’s license number on your checks.
  • Do not voluntarily give out your Social Security number on medical information forms and such.
  • Do not give sensitive personal information or account information over the phone when you have not initiated the contact. Call the institution yourself to determine if the request for information is legitimate.
  • Do not click on links in emails you receive that purport to connect you to websites where you have an account. Connect to the website yourself and determine if the request for information is legitimate.
  • Use anti-virus and malware detection software along with a strong firewall for your home network and computer systems.
  • Do not access websites that contain sensitive personal data over a public wifi network.

Precautions are no guarantee you will not become a victim

The safeguards outlined above will help you protect your sensitive personal data from fraudulent use and aid in detecting any fraudulent use should it occur, but they are not a guarantee against identity theft or fraudulent use of your personal data. There is no guarantee other than to keep your sensitive personal information to yourself, and that is not possible nor practical.

Our world is data-driven and data breaches are a part of the picture. You cannot avoid them, but you can protect yourself. Be conscious of the danger, implement safeguards, and monitor your accounts and statements. You will greatly reduce the chances of identity theft and minimize the effects of any fraudulent use of your personal data should it occur.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages

Equate Disposal Razor Beats Dollar Store Brand

Equate Disposable Razor Beats Dollar Store Brand

Equate Twin Blade Plus 5-Pack

In my continued search for a cheap disposable razor that gives a shave equivalent to the Gillette Good News® disposal razor, I have found a new champion: Walmart’s Equate® disposable razor.

Like the dollar store Persona® brand, the Equate comes five to a package and is priced at 98 cents (19.6 cents per razor). It looks exactly like the Persona, same twin blades, same style handle, same size shaving head, same lubrication strip, and same angle of the shaving head to the handle. Even the style of the pasteboard packaging is the same (with different printing, of course). I would not have been able to tell the difference between the two except that the Persona has Persona engraved in the handle.

I do, however, notice a difference when I shave with each razor. While both products render a comfortable shave the first few times they are used, the Equate product seems to me to produce a closer shave in the initial strokes of a shave. In addition, the Equate gives me more of those close, comfortable shaves than the Persona does. That is enough of a difference for me.

Switching to the Equate brand does save me a little money since the razors last longer, but the primary reason I switched is the added comfort and closeness of the shaves.

There comes a point in seeking better value where the price is as low as it can go. Value is then added by seeking a better product at that lowest price. I get a better value from the Equate disposable razor and so my standard of living is increased marginally without spending more money. It is how Rosa and I live well as we continue to live beneath our means.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages

Four Opportunities to Boost Your Rate of Saving

Most people experience many opportunities in their lifetime to boost their rate of saving dramatically if they are prepared for them and take the proper action. Unfortunately, many of these opportunities are missed because saving is not a priority. Instead, material acquisition, that list in their heads of the things they want to buy and the places they want to go when they get their hands on extra money, controls their thinking. Opportunities to boost their rate of saving are perceived as opportunities increase their standard of living.

If you desire to get ahead financially and accumulate the wealth necessary to become financially secure and independent, watch for these four opportunities to increase your rate of saving. When they appear, have a plan in place to save a large portion, if not all, of the new money you receive. Defer increasing your standard of living until your level of wealth can support it. Base your standard of living on your level of accumulated wealth rather than on your income.

Full-time employment before marriage

The current median age in the United States for the first marriage for men is 29.5 years of age and 27.5 for women. Depending on the level of education you pursue after high school, you could have potentially six to ten years of full-time earnings before your first marriage.

These are years when frugal living can yield critical savings with which to build a foundation of accumulated wealth for the rest of your life. You have been used to having very little money while you were getting your education. You won’t miss the extra money you save from full-time earnings if you pay yourself first with automatic withdrawals from your paycheck or checking account. Resist the temptation to spend on a new car, trendy electronic gadgets, and exotic travel. Restrain spending on dates, nightlife, clothing, and travel with the use of a budget. Share rent and utilities with a roommate or mates. Keep living like you did when you were in school for a while longer and save the difference.

Improve your job skills, network, have fun and enjoy life, but start laying the foundation for your financial and professional future by saving during this period of your life when you have the fewest responsibilities.

At the beginning of a marriage of two full-time wage earners

You and your new spouse both earn full-time incomes. Now is the time to create a budget that is based on one full-time income. That’s right, live on the equivalent of one income and save the other. Each of you is used to living on one income already. You won’t miss the second income if you save it from the beginning of your marriage. By doing this, your savings will skyrocket. You will avoid debt. You will have the financial flexibility for one of you to quit his or her job or maybe work part-time while he or she gets an advanced degree or training, starts a business, or changes careers. If one of you experiences a decrease or interruption in income, your finances will not suffer; you will just save less for a while.

A substantial increase in pay as a result of a promotion, job change, or change of careers

Suddenly, your income increases by a third, or a half, or maybe it doubles. You are on easy street with lots of extra cash. Save it. If you can’t bring yourself to save all of it, save most of it. You are used to doing without it. Continue to do without it until your accumulated savings supports an increase in your standard of living.

An increase in income of this magnitude is rare; it may only happen once in a person’s work life, and it usually happens in the early years of one’s career. Be ready for it and have a plan to save all or most of the increase.

Windfalls

Chunks of unexpected income will come your way throughout your life. Bonuses, income tax withholding refunds, settlements, inheritances, prize winnings, and such are considered windfalls. You can’t predict when they will appear; you can’t count on receiving them, but they come your way nevertheless. They can amount to tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Have a plan to save all or most of any windfall you receive, no matter how small. You were not expecting to get this money, so pretend it doesn’t exist and put it into savings.

Saving requires a plan

Saving does not occur without a plan to do so. Spending is the default behavior, especially when dealing with new money. Make a plan to take advantage of these four opportunities to boost your rate of saving, and you will smooth the path to financial security and independence. It is much easier to forgo spending than it is to cut back. You cannot make a mistake by saving. If later on, you have reservations about your decision to save, you can always spend some or all of the money you put away. The same cannot be said about a decision to spend; once the money is spent, it is gone. Make a plan to save and stick to it.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages