As you no doubt recall, information regarding last month’s Great Equifax Hack has uncovered negligence by data megabroker Equifax which led to the preventable theft of 145 million credit bureau accounts.
Equifax then waited six weeks before telling anyone about the theft, giving the Internet bad guys a six-week advantage before U.S. consumers were warned they might need to protect themselves.
The stolen information included names, addresses, birthdays and, the most dangerous of all, Social Security numbers. Much of the stolen loot also included driver’s license numbers, 209,000 credit card numbers and 182,000 additional documents containing “personally identifying information.”
If your information has been stolen and used by Internet crooks, they can use it to masquerade as you, obtaining home mortgages and loans in your name, as well as bank accounts and new credit cards. They can even get a bogus driver’s license based on your information and, if ever given a speeding ticket, it’s you that will carry the blame. Using your personal information, they can file with the IRS to steal your tax refund, and have your Social Security checks deposited in “your” new bank account, which they control. All this can lead to personal and financial ruin.
In my column dated 9-17-17, titled “Take action, the Equifax hack may be ‘the big one,'” I outlined steps to protect oneself from this personal data catastrophe, including freezing accounts at all four U.S. credit bureaus (not to be confused with a credit “alert” or “lock”) and signing up for free credit monitoring.
There’s more to do, though, if you really want to be thorough in dealing with the Equifax hack. Did you know that, not only are credit report files being kept on you at four different credit bureaus, a “consumer disclosure file” is also being kept on you at three different “consumer reporting” agencies?
Consumer Reports Senior Editor Jeff Blyskall, on Sept. 19, suggests you should round out your Equifax hack protections by getting your free annual consumer reports from Chexsystems (www.chexsystems.com), Certegy (www.askcertegy.com) and TeleCheck (www.firstdata.com/telecheck). The idea is to learn if bogus checks are being written in your name using your stolen driver’s license number. You are entitled to a free copy of your consumer report every 12 months.
Benefits from private healthcare insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, also need to be protected. Information stolen in the Equifax hack could be used by a crook to pay for their own treatment and prescriptions. Make sure you have current copies of all medical records so you know exactly who’s doing what, and when. Monitor this information frequently for changes regarding providers you don’t know or healthcare you never received. Online “patient portals” can be a handy way to do this, but make sure you use a clean, secure computer and a strong password.
There are even more files being kept on you that you should get copies of. Once known as the “Medical Information Bureau,” MIB Group keeps countless files on Americans and “alerts” health and life insurance companies of “errors, omissions or misrepresentations made on insurance applications.” In other words, they provide your personal, private data to total strangers, without your permission, and that data is then used to determine if you are worthy of receiving insurance, and how much it will cost. Be sure to visit www.mib.com and get your once-a-year-for-free “Consumer File.” Be sure to request your “file,” not your “report;” they’re different.
Consumer Reports also recommends visiting www.rxhistories.com and getting a copy of your Milliman IntelliScript file. What, you may ask, is a Milliman IntelliScript file? Why, it’s a file containing your prescription history.
If you use insurance to pay for prescriptions, you have a file going back years that lists everything about those prescriptions. Knowingly or unknowingly, you gave permission to create this file as part of the list of things you agreed to when you originally signed up for insurance. These files, and the “risk assessments” they generate, are used by insurance companies to decide whether or not they will pay for drugs your doctor may prescribe. For your purposes, they can also be used to learn if a crook is using your insurance to pay for his prescriptions.
I would also call databrokers ExamOne/Quest Diagnostics at 1-844-225-8047 and get a copy of your prescription history file. Give them the name of your health insurance provider to see what they have. ExamOne specializes in collecting prescriptions and lab test results and running that data through custom computer programs to “predict” what ailments you might have. This information is then given to insurers so they may “gather deeper insights into (an) applicant’s potential mortality risk.”
The Federal Trade Commission suggests you should also contact your insurance companies and healthcare providers to request the “accounting of disclosures” for your medical records. The accounting is a record of who got copies of your records from the provider. The law allows you to order one free copy of the accounting from each of your medical providers every 12 months.
With Social Security numbers stolen in the Equifax hack, crooks can file fake tax returns under your name and receive fraudulent refunds. This is a huge problem at the IRS, with many thousands of bogus returns already filed this year, and many millions of dollars lost.
Many tax experts recommend even if don’t officially qualify for one, you should request an Identity Protection PIN by filing Form 14039 with the IRS. No matter the outcome, additional monitoring will usually be added to your account as a result. You should also regularly monitor your IRS account information using their online portal.