By:  Mark Boujikian, CFP®

It was a day like any other, business as usual for most hardworking Americans. But things were about to change in a very big way for nearly 80 million people when Anthem officials announced that it was the target of a “very sophisticated external cyber attack”.

In a nutshell, personal information including names, birthdays, social security numbers, street addresses, email addresses and employment information was stolen from Anthem and there was nothing that those 80 million people could do to stop it from happening. The event was reminiscent of the 2013 Target breach affecting over 70 million people.

A data breach such as Anthem’s, whether you’re affected or not, can be an important wake up call and time to audit your current identity theft protection practices and work to maximize their effectiveness. Here are steps to take to protect yourself in the unfortunate event of identity theft:

1.  Create a fraud alert – This directs creditors to double-check whenever someone applies for credit in your name:
Call one of the three credit reporting bureaus and report that you suspect you may be an identity theft victim. That bureau will automatically contact the other two credit bureaus. Request a fraud alert on your file.  The process is FREE and will stay active on your credit report for 90 days. If you are a victim, you can extend your fraud alert for up to seven years.

2. Put a security freeze on your credit report:
A freeze means no one can pull your credit report, so no one can apply for new lines of credit in your name, not even you. This is the best action you can take. Prices are low and vary by state.

3. Get copies of your credit reports:
Ask for your one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies (contact info below). Carefully examine your reports for unfamiliar information or accounts. Contact your bank or credit union if you think your credit or debit cards may have been affected.

4. Create an identity theft report:
If you know an account has been compromised, talk to someone in that company’s fraud department and send a follow-up letter by certified mail with a return receipt. Go to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website (www.ftc.gov/complaint); complete the form in as much detail as possible. Submit the form and save the reference number. Save or print the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.

5. Monitor your accounts:
Request your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year to continue the monitoring process. Utilize free monitoring sites such as Credit Karma (www.creditkarma.com) and Credit Sesame (www.creditsesame.com) to keep an up to date look at credit inquiries on your account. Identity theft is a growing concern and affects over 5% of consumers every year. Ongoing monitoring of your credit reports, your bank and credit card accounts, as well as investment accounts are a safe way to ensure you are ready should an identity theft situation arise. We may not be able to control the occurrence of a data breach, but we can control how we react to the circumstances.

For more information or to double check your identity theft protection plan, contact Harris Financial Advisors at (310) 791-3226.

Experian:
www.experian.com
(888) 397-3742

Transunion:
www.transunion.com
(800) 680-7289

Equifax:
www.equifax.com
(888) 766-0008