Business & Finance

Equifax, Cybersecurity and You: Point View's Toth Advises on Key Steps to Protect Identity, Avoid Fraud

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Claire E. Toth, JD, MLT, CFP™, is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Point View Wealth Management, Inc.
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SUMMIT, NJ - News of the Equifax data breach justly has many concerned, with estimates of upwards of 143 million people potentially affected. Claire E. Toth, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Summit-based Point View Wealth Management, says that, while the breach occurred beginning in May and, therefore, it’s late to rush a response, there are steps individuals can take and that Point View, on behalf of its clients, is already taking to prevent unauthorized access into existing accounts and to protect one's identify from being used to open new accounts.

According to Toth, Point View protects its clients' Managed Accounts by taking the following steps:

  1. Any time we receive a request to move money to a bank account not already linked to an account we manage or to a third party, we call the client on a phone number we already know is good.  The person making the call must be someone who recognizes the client’s voice.  We ask open-ended questions until the client confirms (or denies) the transfer request.  The written transfer request we submit to Fidelity has the client’s signature and a Point View principal’s countersignature verifying that we’ve done the phone check and are taking responsibility if there’s been fraud.  We’ve prevented at least two fraudulent transfer attempts this year.

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  2. If a client attempts to change contact information—address, phone, email—by logging into Fidelity.com, Fidelity reaches out to us to verify the change.  If we can’t verify it quickly, the account is restricted.

  3. If a client attempts to log onto Fidelity.com from certain locations in the world, Fidelity freezes the account until the client confirms from the United States that the log in attempt was valid.  Earlier this year, clients attempted to log into Fidelity.com from Cuba and got frozen for the duration of their round-the-world trip.

  4. Every morning, we download and review every transaction in every client account.  If we see something we don’t understand, we call the client.  Fidelity has a fraud protection unit that monitors accounts in real time.  Its algorithms are proprietary, but they’ll flag suspicious activity and have us reach out to you.

Toth advises the firm's clients, "Bottom line with any of this:  if you are planning anything out of the ordinary, please pick up the telephone and call us.  At a minimum, it saves us having to track you down for a voice confirmation." For those of you not working with Point View, Toth says investors should check with their advisor and custodian to determine how their accounts are being protected.

The Point View's chief operating officer also detailed a series of steps individuals can take to protect all existing accounts

  1. Change passwords. This goes for email accounts as well as for banks, brokerages, credit cards, and such.  If a financial web site allows you to set up two-step authentication (you enter your password; its sends a code to your cell phone; you enter the code), set it up.  On all of your credit cards, set up email alerts.  You can receive an email every time you make a purchase, or you can choose to receive emails only on certain purchases—card not present, foreign seller, large purchase, etc.

  2. Before clicking on a link in an email, hover over it to view the IP address.  If you don’t recognize it or aren’t sure, navigate to the web site itself.  Be careful of opening attachments; at a minimum, verify verbally with the sender that it’s a real attachment.  Look carefully at the address from which an email comes; phishing emails often have an odd email address sitting under a real contact’s name.  It’s very easy for john@xyz.com to be phished as john@yxz.com.  

  3. Don’t respond directly to emails or phone calls from creditors.  Instead, phone back to a known number or go directly to the creditor’s web site.  If there’s something important you need to know, find out that way.

  4. Go to annualcreditreport.com and look at your credit reports.  You are entitled to receive one free report from each agency annually.  Be sure you recognize every lender and account listed; contact the agency if you don’t.

  5. Equifax has established a separate website, equifaxsecurity2017.com.  There, you can enter your last name and ending digits of your Social Security number to see if your data has been threatened.  Expect a yes answer—there are reports that any random collection of letters and digits come back positive.  From there, you can enroll in a free, one year security monitoring program.  This is not the commercial ones you’ve seen advertised, so it’s too soon to say how effective it is.  

Toth says to preventing unauthorized accounts, individuals can establish a fraud alert or a credit freeze. Bear in mind that the Equifax data has already been out there for four months.

A fraud alert lasts for three months, though it can be renewed.  To activate, individuals contact one of the three credit reporting agencies, prove who they are, and request it.  The agency is required to contact the other two.  With the alert in place, a creditor that pulls a consumer's report is required to take “reasonable steps” to insure their identity.  That isn’t foolproof, but experts expect near-term, heightened awareness among creditors.

For added protection, individuals can set up a credit freeze. This is free if one has a police report showing identity theft; otherwise it costs about $10 for each of the three agencies.  (Different states administer this program, so costs are not uniform across the country.)  With a credit freeze, a creditor cannot view one's history unless they affirmatively unlock it.  It typically costs another $10 to unlock and can take up to three business days. Married couples must freeze their own accounts separately.  A credit freeze may be a good option for those who don’t plan on applying for any additional credit and are not frequently online.

Finally, Toth recommends to, If not already done so, establish an online account with the Social Security Administration (ssa.gov).  "There’s a very real risk that someone with your credit information can create that online account first and divert your Social Security benefits elsewhere," she says.

Point View Wealth Management, Inc. is located at 382 Springfield Avenue, Suite 208, in Summit. To contact Claire Toth call 908-598-1717.

 

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