Category: Consumer Protection Laws

How to protect yourself after the Equifax data breach

equifax data breachFollowing the news of the hurricanes, news of the Equifax security breach has been all over the news. Financial data of 143 million Americans has been stolen, and in many cases it means that the victims are at-risk of becoming victims of identity theft for the remainder of their lives. That’s right, you, and if you have them, your children, could be at risk for the rest of your life. The hackers got names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, and some driver’s license numbers.

The breach ticks me off – this never should have happened. Clearly Equifax has some major vulnerability in their system which they should have known about and protected. A credit bureau should be utilizing the highest level of security at every level. Your information with them should be as secure as a vault. On top of that, to add insult to injury, three of Equifax’s executives (including the CFO) sold nearly $2 million worth of stock after the breach, but before they told the public about it. That’s right – here’s a timeline for you:

  • Between mid-May and July, 2017 – breach happens
  • July 29, 2017 – the hack was discovered
  • Aug 1-2, 2017 – executives sell almost $2 million worth of stock
  • Sept 7, 2017 – the public is informed of the breach (thank you, Equifax, for waiting more than a month before letting us know)
  • Sept 8, 2017 – Equifax stock drops by double-digits

Equifax cliams that these executives had no knowledge of the hack when they sold their shares, but I don’t buy it. You’re telling me the CFO didn’t know about this? If he didn’t know, then who did? I’m sure that the timing of the sale will be part of any investigation.

The breach has happened, though, and you need to take specific steps to be sure you protect yourself. Let me warn you now, the few hours you spend on this are not going to be the most fun, but it is critical you take care of it now. It will be much, much worse if you wait and are a victim of identity theft.

I’ll try to make it as easy as possible for you with links and instructions.

  • First, don’t sign up for the protection that Equifax is offering. It only lasts a year, and, unless you opt-out of it, means you can’t be part of suing Equifax later on. I also don’t trust the company that just had the biggest data breach in history to be able to protect my data. Pass. Due to the severity of the breach, they should offer identity theft protection for life.
  • Sign up for Credit Karma (https://www.creditkarma.com/). You will get free credit scores and free monitoring of your credit reports. If anything unusual happens, they will contact you. It’s a free service and you should sign up for all adult members of your family.
  • Credit Karma logo

  • Place a credit freeze on all three of your credit bureau files. A credit freeze is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF. It literally locks your credit bureau files so NO ONE, including you, will be approved for new credit. A thief could have your information and they will apply rapidly for credit, all of which will be denied. They will eventually move on. Depending on the state you live in, there will be a $0-$15 fee to set this up, and you need to do this for each adult member of your family.Here are the links:
    https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
    https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
    https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

    Because millions of people are setting these up the systems are not all working. I was able to set up Equifax and Experian, but not TransUnion. I will keep trying throughout the next day or so, and if it doesn’t work I will take care of it via mail.If you need to apply for credit later, you can un-freeze your reports for a limited period of time, after which it will re-freeze.

  • Place a fraud alert on your accounts. This is simply an extra step that puts an alert on your credit report that you might be a victim of identity theft, and that creditors need to call you before any credit application can be approved. It only lasts 90 days, but you can put the alert on there repeatedly. I already have a note on my calendar 90 days from today to renew the alert. You only need to place the alert with one company then they will place the alert with the other two. I recommend you use TransUnions fraud alert system – I found it to be the easiest one: https://www.transunion.com/fraud-victim-resource/place-fraud-alert
  • fraud alert

  • Sign up for Zander Insurance identity theft insurance. For $145 a year it protects your entire family, including your children. They have a 100% recovery success rate and protect you against all types of ID theft, including tax fraud, medical ID theft, and, of course, financial fraud. If your identity is stolen as a result of the Equifax, or any other breach or identity theft, they will take over and fix everything. It is well worth every penny. You can sign up for that here: https://www.zanderins.com/idtheft2
  • logo_zander

  • Speaking of children, does it make sense to freeze their reports? The credit bureaus don’t want you to be able to do that, but some states have made it mandatory. All three bureaus are falling in line, but none will allow you to do it online. TransUnion will do a search, for free, to see if your children have credit reports. You can find that here: https://www.transunion.com/credit-disputes/child-identity-theft-inquiry-form.
  • Utah is taking things one step further – they have set up a Child Identity Protection Program through the Attorney General’s office that registers your children’s Social Security numbers as a number belonging to a minor, which will help protect their data. You can find that program here: https://cip.utah.gov/cip/SessionInit.action. If you live in a different state encourage your attorney general to create a similar program. Because I live in Utah and have this option, along with the Zander protection, I don’t feel that I need to freeze their credit, but if I lived outside of Utah I would absolutely take that step.
  • utah cip

  • Because credit card numbers were stolen, I recommend calling the toll-free number on the back of each credit card you have and requesting a new number. It’s a pro-active step you can take to prevent unauthorized charges in the future.

Again, I realize this isn’t fun – it’s a lot of work to set these things up, but I wouldn’t delay. Take a couple of hours today and get all of this done. Taking these steps is like building a brick wall between you and identity thieves.

How to Protect Yourself from Banking Fraud

wellsfargoBy now you’ve probably heard about Wells Fargo and the $190 million fine they are being issued because their employees created more than 2 million unwanted deposit accounts and credit cards for their customers. Because of the scandal 5,300 employees have lost their jobs. Wells Fargo customers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for these unwanted accounts.

Why did the employees create fake accounts?

The employees are paid an incentive for every new account or credit card they opened. They might get $3 for signing someone up for online banking, or $5 to open a savings account, or $20 if they open a new credit card. Imagine the incentive there – if an employee making minimum wage could open 2-3 new cards a day, that makes a big difference in how much they take home.

How did so many accounts get opened without customer’s knowing about it?

Some customers did notice, and they would get the accounts closed. Others probably noticed, but didn’t take the time to get them closed. Others probably didn’t notice it. Far too many people don’t really pay attention to their accounts or even their balances.

Let’s put a few things in perspective

  • 5,300 employees are a tiny portion of Wells Fargo’s workforce. They have 265,000 employees, so 5,300 is only 2% of their work force. Also, the firings took place over several years, not just today as most news stories are indicating. The majority of Wells Fargo employees are honest and wouldn’t do something like this. Will they encourage you to open a credit card? Sure. They might take home $20 if they can convince you, but most of them would never dream of opening one up for you after you said you weren’t interested.
  • $190 million means nothing to Wells Fargo. They are worth $250 billion, so $190 million is only .076% of the bank’s net worth. If you have a net worth of $200,000 a fine of .076% would be $152. Annoying? Sure. But it isn’t going to cause any trouble to your budget or your net worth. Some people have asked if the fine is high enough. It probably isn’t.
  • Wells Fargo has agreed to change their sales practices and provide more oversight, and anyone who paid fines or fees will receive a full refund.
  • Many banks offer their employees these types of incentives. The more accounts a person has with a bank the more tied in they are, and the harder it is to leave. Employees are incentivized for helping tie you in with that bank for life.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There are a few simple steps you can take:

  • Watch your accounts. Be sure to check your accounts regularly to make sure nothing is being charged or added to your accounts.
  • Keep things simple. You don’t need 12 accounts at 9 different banks in the area. You should have one main bank. If you have little accounts open at other banks because you got a free toaster for opening an account, get them closed.
  • Switch to a local credit union. Credit unions are owned by their members, and they charge fewer and lower fees and will give you better rates on loans. You can also get to know the managers. Most of them are happy to meet with their members and will help you out if there is a problem.
  • There is no reason for you to pay any maintenance fees on your checking or savings accounts. There are plenty of credit unions and banks that have free checking and savings accounts with no minimum balance requirements and no limit on the number of transactions you can make per month.

I encourage you to be proactive about your banking by taking these simple steps to protect yourself.

And if you have a Wells Fargo account, pull up your online banking and make sure no accounts were opened for you that you didn’t want or ask for. Check for fines and fees you shouldn’t have paid. They will be contacting their customers to let them know how to get a refund.

 

Picture credit: http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/wells-fargo-go-go/

3 day cooling off period

Our home still has the original windows in it with metal frames. It lets in a lot of heat in the summer, and a lot of cold in the winter. They are single-pane and incredibly inefficient, so we have been in the market for new windows.

We’ve had two door-to-door salespeople come by offering to do a quote. The first guy wanted 2.5 hours for the appointment, and never would give us an estimate until he looked at every window and pointed out all the problems (tip for that type of salesperson – we know we need all new windows, you don’t need to spend 10 minutes analyzing each one!). The second guy was really nice, but we fell for a marketing ploy. “We don’t do any type of advertising. In a 3-square mile area we pick two homes and you become our marketing home. We put a sign up in your yard for 60 days and direct people to look at your windows. For that, we give you a big discount.” He sold us on the virtuous of their 3-pane windows and lifetime warranty. (It turns out, by the way, that you don’t need 3-pane windows unless you live in a really cold or hot place.)

We needed new windows, so we decided to take the plunge and put 20% down and signed the contract. The windows would take about 8-weeks because they special order them for your home.

The salesman gave us a bunch of paperwork and we set it aside since this was just before Christmas. Christmas and New Years came and went and we started doing some research (well, asking friends on Facebook. That counts as research, right?). It turns out that those who had new windows put in paid about half of what we paid. We decided to get out of the contract. However, just above where we signed it said this:

“YOU, THE BUYER, MAY CANCEL THIS TRANSACTION BY DELIVERING WRITTEN NOTICE TO THE SELLER AT ANY TIME PRIOR TO MIDNIGHT OF THE THIRD BUSINESS DAY AFTER THE DATE OF THIS TRANSACTION.”

Oops….we were well past the third business day, but I figured I would contact the seller anyway since they hadn’t done any work yet and the windows hadn’t been ordered. I e-mailed the salesman and his regional manager and got an e-mail back basically saying, “Tough luck. You signed the contract and we’re going to make you stick to it.” We went back and forth – “do you really want your marketing home to be an unhappy customer? Let’s look at doing something different – maybe double-pane windows instead.” They basically said, “No, you are beyond the third business day. We’re holding you to it.”

I decided to do some actual research, though, to see if there was any way out of the contract. I first went to the Federal Trade Commission’s website and found an article about the FTC’s cooling off rule (http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0176-buyers-remorse-when-ftcs-cooling-rule-may-help). It basically says that as long as the sale was over $25 and not at the seller’s place of business the seller has to do three things:

1. The seller must tell you about your right to cancel at the time of sale
2. The seller also must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send if you decide to cancel your purchase) and a copy of your contract or receipt
3. The contract or receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel

The seller had done two and three, but not the first one – he neglected to tell us about it. I sent the article to the regional manager and he said, “You are beyond the third day, but I’ll check with the company owner. You’re not getting out of this contract. We had a Utah lawyer write the contract and it complies with Utah law in all matters.”

While I was waiting for him, I did more research. I went to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection website (http://www.consumerprotection.utah.gov/) and it turns out that Utah law (http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r152/r152-11.htm) states:

(a) The notice required shall:
(i) be a conspicuous statement written in dark bold with at least 12-point type on the first page of the purchase documentation; and
(ii) read as follows: “YOU, THE BUYER, MAY CANCEL THIS CONTRACT AT ANY TIME PRIOR TO MIDNIGHT OF THE THIRD BUSINESS DAY AFTER THE DATE OF THE TRANSACTION OR RECEIPT OF THE PRODUCT, WHICHEVER IS LATER.”

I had something here – their contract neglected the words “OR RECEIPT OF THE PRODUCT, WHICHEVER IS LATER.” I called an investigator with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection Services, explained the situation and asked if “receipt of the product” is a receipt like you get at a store or physical receipt of the product. She confirmed it is physical receipt of the product. She said the company was in violation of Utah law because their contract didn’t have that provision on it and that we were entitled to a full refund until the windows are installed. She also said that she was going to investigate the company to be sure they add that to their contract, and that if they didn’t promptly refund the money her office would take over and get it back.

I sent this all in an e-mail to the company and shortly thereafter got a phone call from the regional manager. “Of course it’s no problem. We’re going to let you out of your contract and as a thank-you for helping us realize we didn’t have the correct wording on there we’re willing to take $2,000 off double-pane windows if you would like to do that.”

We aren’t taking them up on the offer.

We learned some important things:

1. We’re putting up a no soliciting sign. I know this won’t stop all salespeople, but it will help. In general, door-to-door salespeople use high pressure tactics and count on you not being able to do any research. They will have slick advertisements and endorsements convincing you to take action now. Our sign will say that youth are welcome to knock. After all, we still want some Girl Scout cookies =)

2. It pays to do your research. If you are in Utah you have until the physical receipt of the product to cancel. If you live outside of Utah check your own state’s rules (if you find it for your state, please put it in the comments below).

3. Don’t sign a contract without reading it in full.

4. Do some comparison shopping before you sign a contract.

5. Don’t be pressured by “you get 15% off, but only if you sign today” or “we only need one more marketing home in your area.” They know that three days is too short to really do any comparison shopping, so they will try to pressure  you to buy that day. Inform them that you are going to comparison shop and you aren’t worried about not getting the best price from them today. If you decide to go with the company insist they give you the discount they were going to give you that day.

6. Talk to your friends – Facebook is a great start – about companies they used and if they liked or didn’t like them. We have since received several referrals for window companies and will likely go with one of them.

We almost had to learn a really expensive lesson, but we will be sure to follow all of these from this point forward.

Remember, if you find your state’s rules, please post them in the comments below.