Quick Blips: October 2017

Recovering from Hurricane Devastation  

  1. Immediately contact your insurance agency to access damage to your home or business.
  2. Be skeptical of people who want upfront money to clean out your home. They may lack the skills, licenses, and insurance to legally do the work.
  3. Scammers, posing as government officials, may request personal and financial information that you can request on your own for free. Contact FEMA directly to apply for aid at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
  4. Scammers may make bogus offers, loans, or grants. Investigate anyone asking for upfront payments to submit a process.

Contact your creditors to discuss your options. If your home is uninhabitable, you still have a mortgage payment to make.

Numbers to Call  

Report lost or stolen credit, ATM, or debit cards to the issuer as soon as possible. Call 1-800-555-1212 for toll free directory assistance.

Contact your utility companies and ask them to waive fees and defer payments if you have lost your belongings. Ask your employer how you can continue to get your paycheck and health insurance. If you are receiving benefits, call the VA at 1-800-827-1000, the Social Security Administration 1-800-772-1213, TRS at 1-800-223-8778. [Colleen Tressler. FTC: Consumer Information Services. Sept. 25, 2017]. 

Equifax Breach Hit 2.5 Million More Americans than Reported

Hackers stole the personal information of 145.5 million Americans. The breach occurred when Equifax’s security department did not patch a flaw that the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team reported to them. Equifax failed to install the Apache Struts upgrade. Equifax said the feature on its website that allows U.S. consumers to check if their information was stolen will be updated to add the newly-listed consumers no later than October 8. [Weise, Elizabeth and Nathan Bomey. USA Today. Rpt. in Amarillo Globe-News. Oct. 3, 2017. p. A-7.]

CEO of Equifax Richard Smith stepped down (retired) on September 26, which led Associated Press sources to write, “A CEO walking out the door just days before he is to appear before Congress is an abdication of his responsibility.” His company jeopardized the financial health and security of 145 million people. His departure will not make life easier for those 145 million Americans. Digital burglars were able to steal identities from May 13 through July 30. The public was not alerted until September 7.  [See Equifax Nightmare, page 2]

Protection after a Security Data Breach

  • Monitor your financial accounts for suspicious activities.
  • Cybercriminals use data from a breach to access your other online accounts via password reset questions, usually personal information. Change the questions immediately.
  • Consider putting a security freeze on your credit report to prevent other institutions from accessing your report entirely, which will prevent opening any new credit lines or credit extensions under your name.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration if dealing with a data breach that involves your SSN about next steps.
  • If you do encounter suspicious activity on your account, contact your bank immediately and inform them of the activity as well as the fact that your information was exposed in a breach. Also, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and file a report.
  • If a password was involved in the breach, change it.

[Excerpted from Symantec Corporation, Norton Internet Security, 2017. Submitted by Lynne James.]

The Equifax Nightmare

Hackers have your social security number and all your credit card numbers. They have all the addresses where you have ever lived. They can now get new credit cards and make loans in your name. They have, can, and will sell your information  to online criminal forums. They may hold the data for years before using it, but some victims have already had new credit cards issued in their names that they did not apply for. 

So, What Can You Do Now?

  1. Be alert. Retain any mail you receive that is unfamiliar to you, such as notices from the IRS regarding your taxes or bills from unknown lenders.
  2. Initiate a fraud alert with the 3 major credit bureaus. The alert informs lenders that you may have been a fraud victim. It warns them to contact you before granting any new line of credit in your name. The fraud alert remains for 90 days; then you must renew it.
  3. When Lynne James across the page told you to monitor your financial accounts, she is talking about your online bank and financial accounts. Get these institutions to set up alert features they may have. They will save some time and keep you notified of any unusual events when they occur.
  4. Monitor your credit reports to identify any unusual activity, such as new accounts, new personal information or inquiries.
  5. When you freeze your credit file, it prevents potential lenders from accessing your credit report. You will have to unfreeze it if you plan to apply for new credit in the near future. Fees and requirements for adding and removing a freeze vary by state. 
  6. You may want to sign up with LifeLock, Experian, or some other monitoring firm. They will watch your accounts for around $100 - $200 a year.  That’s $10 or $20 a month for peace of mind, but they cannot prevent thieves from opening accounts in your name.  They can only let you know when the activity occurs. [“Data Breach: Five Things to Do after Your Information Has Been Stolen.” <https://usa.experian.com/#/ identity/activity>. Oct. 3, 2017.

It will be difficult to know the depth of this damage to Americans because much of their information has already been floating around on the black market from prior cyber-thefts of Yahoo, Target, and Home Depot.  Javelin Strategy and Research report 15.4 million U.S. victims of identity theft in 2017. Javelin reported a $16 billion loss because of ID theft in 2016. [Shell, Adam. “Total Damage of Hack May Never Be Known.” USA Today. Rpt. in Amarillo Globe-News. Sept. 17, 2017. B9.]

When you are going to be out of town, consider turning off the clothes washer’s water valves. The machine’s hose can rupture and flood the house.

[Todd S. to Heloise. Amarillo Globe-News. Oct. 2, 2017. A8.] marillo Globe-News.

Demand Best Practices from Doctors and Hospitals

Limit the amount of information asked for on a sign-in sheet. Ask that you be called aloud by only your first name and initial of surname. If there’s a board being used, ask for the same protocol. Ask about security measures. Data should be encrypted, “not left in plain text and vulnerable to criminals.” Regular security audits are a must. Do not provide your social security number on forms. Speak up if you witness a breach, where your health information is compromised. Guard your name, address, medical and mental health diagnoses, addiction histories, HIV statuses and even sexual assault and domestic violence reports. [Petrow, Steven. “Your Doctor May Be Putting You at Risk.” USA Today. Rpt. in Amarillo Globe-News. Aug. 28, 2017. B-4.]

Headache-Proof Your Life

If you are squinting and straining, you are instigating tension headaches. Dehydration causes your blood volume to drop, resulting in reduced blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Intentionally sip water through the day, even if you are not thirsty. As you age, your sense of thirst weakens. Hunching or slouching causes tightness and strength imbalances in your neck muscles. Keep a diary of foods that trigger migraines. Smartphone apps like “Migraine Buddy” make it easy. Build in short spurts of meditation, yoga, reading or activity that relaxes you even during your busiest day to avoid the letdown headache. Get 7-8 hours of sleep. Keep your medication near. [Taylor, Marygrace. “SPRY Living Online” at Parade.Com. July 2017.