ou may have heard about the Equifax breach, which compromised the information of about 143 million Americans. For consumers trying to obtain a mortgage, this could have serious implications such as delays in loan verification due to additional safeguards that might be implemented.
The biggest impact is if scammers use stolen information to obtain debt, credit cards, etc. that affect your credit score. Another area to be watchful of is your 401(k) account, which many use toward their down payments.
According to a recent article in Consumer Reports, 401(k) accounts are not insured in the same way as bank and savings accounts for protection from fraud. They encourage you to call your 401(k) plan provider and other investment managers to learn their fraud protection policies, as they can vary from company to company. Fidelity and Vanguard have voluntary online fraud policies that promise to reimburse assets stolen in unauthorized online transactions.
If you haven't already, the fastest way to protect yourself from the Equifax data breach is to place a security freeze on your credit files at the big three credit reporting bureaus. Consumers should apply the freeze to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can also apply a freeze to a lesser-known consumer reporting agency, Innovis.
In addition to the credit freeze, here are a few other recommended actions:
- Activate two-factor authentication on financial and email accounts. Two-factor authentication is an important extra layer of safety. It requires not just a password but a second element, such as a code texted to your phone to which a crook does not have access. They recommend implementing this on all of your existing banking, savings, credit card, home equity line of credit, and other financial accounts that offer it. You can also download an authenticator app such as Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator, which generates the codes without the use of texting, which can be intercepted.
- Place a fraud alert on your account. A fraud alert is different from a credit freeze in that it places a notice on your credit report that warns both current and prospective lenders that they must take reasonable steps to verify your identity before granting credit, opening a new account, etc.
- Use multiple passwords and save them in a password app such as LastPass which prevents using the same password for multiple accounts that can provide a master key for hackers.