Last May hackers stole over 143 million social security numbers, birthdays, and other personal information from Americans tied to Equifax. The major breach not only puts our identities at risk, but our businesses as well.
So how do you protect your home business and finances from being hijacked?
Thankfully Bob over at SeedTime helped put this into simple language when he recently sent over an email describing exactly what steps to take. Here’s what he suggests:
- Go to Equifax to find out if your information was stolen (most were by the way)
- Protect your identity with a credit freeze so that no new accounts can be opened: Equifax, Transunion & Experian
- Invest in I.D. theft insurance
It’s important to act now to protect your good name and to ensure that your finances are not hijacked by a criminal. This can be devastating for any individual or business owner, especially at tax time. Many have found out that their taxes were filed without their knowledge using their social security numbers! Thieves can also open up credit cards, charge up medical expenses, and even commit a crime in your name.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice the average identity theft victim loses at least $1,343 in assets and thirty percent of survey respondents even lost their homes.
In order to protect your family and income here are a few other important steps to take to minimize your risk:
Check your credit at least once a month
There are a lot of great services available today that allow you to keep tabs on your credit report and find out what activity has been taking place. I use Credit Karma, which has an easy to follow dashboard and daily updates. Keep in mind your scores may vary according to your bank and the three credit bureaus, but this is a good way to keep tabs on your activity for free.
Before a credit freeze decide if you have to apply for a new loan
Although placing a freeze does not affect your score you will not be able to apply for new credit until you life the freeze. In some states the process only lasts temporarily, but you will want to check with each credit bureau to find out the rules. Once a freeze is done you are provided with a pin, which you should write down and keep in a safe place. Your existing creditors still have access to your records during this process.
Opt out of credit card offers
This is one of the top ways mail thieves can steal your information and open up credit cards in your name. When mail is thrown out into the trash bin or if there is mail theft going on these notices can be used for fraudulent purposes. By the way, even if you have a locked mailbox these can still be broken into if they are not monitored. But you can help stop these notices coming to your mailbox by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
A lot of banks use this consumer reporting system, and so if you decide to move forward with a credit freeze give them a call and let them know. There are also a lot of helpful resources to help protect you from identity theft. Setting up alerts is free by calling 888-478-6536 or by filling out a form online.
Protect your business EIN and identity
If you have a registered business name then you are at risk as much if not more than an individual. Criminals are after your EIN number, state business registration, business bank accounts, and financial data. Information can not only be sold on the black market, but also be used to open a mirror business in your company’s name. To find out if you are at risk head on over to Business Id Theft‘s website and see their full list of areas you need to protect yourself in.
Asses and change your passwords
Go over all of your logins and check to see if any of these have a weak password that can be easily hacked. This has happened to a lot of email and social accounts, and is now widespread. The best to keep track is to hand write your passwords in addition to using a tool like Keeper to keep track of all of your accounts. Add an extra layer of protection with two-factor authentication, which you may have already set up on places like Google and Facebook.
Get the latest anti-virus software
Many of us do our business primarily online and visit different websites as a result. What’s lurking behind the corner are malware attacks — these can come as a very bad surprise if you are using a computer or smartphone. If you don’t which one to decide on you can get a full list at Techradar. No matter what platform you are using you need to have this software in place. As a precaution keep all of your devices fully updated and use a backup system for your website and files on your computer and smart devices.
Don’t delay filing your tax return
Even if you plan on making payment installments or filing for an extension it’s good practice to file your tax return as soon as possible in order to avoid having a thief beat you to the punch. When someone gets a hold of your EIN or social security number they can file a fraudulent return, which can be very difficult for you, the freelancer or business owner, to sort through with the IRS.
If you have already just found out that your identity of stolen after the Equifax breach or any other breaches the first thing you should do is contact your bank and creditors and let them know what has happened. Next, file a police report for your area and then contact the FTC to report the crime. You may also want to contact Social Security and the IRS to alert them of the fraud as well if you know that your social security number was compromised. The United States Department of Justice includes a full report on how to protect yourself from identity theft as well.