How To Protect Yourself – Respond To Equifax Info Leak & Reduce Online Risks
Recently the national credit monitoring company, Equifax, had a data leak resulting in the personal information of hundreds of millions of individuals being made public on the internet.
If you aren’t aware of this breach, Equifax has set up a website at https://www.equifax.com/personal/?/ allowing you to check to see if your personal information including social security number, address, birth date, employment history, credit history, and more was leaked.
Protect Yourself – Your Personal Info May Be Vulnerable
Most people don’t realize how much of their personal information is being used by websites around the world. Plus, most people don’t have a plan to protect themselves and their digital selves, both while they are living, and after they pass away. This article will provide several different types of digital asset protection including:
- Protecting your credit score – risk greatly increased due to the Equifax leak
- Protecting your passwords—a serious matter with email passwords recently brought up in the Presidential campaign and subsequently in the early days of the Trump administration
- Protecting your social media accounts including ways of protecting this information if you pass away or become incapacitated
- Protecting your website and blog ownership as these assets become more profitable
- Protecting your digital estate with new Texas legislation in this area
Protect Yourself – Your Credit Score May Be at Risk Due To Equifax Leak
Your credit score may be affected by the Equifax leak. Here’s how this could happen: As a credit monitoring company, Equifax plays a big part in determining if you are approved or denied credit. They store and use your personal information and credit payment history to provide credit scores to banks and other companies. These companies use your credit score to determine if you qualify for a home mortgage, buying cars, or even getting a credit card. If you have experience with one of those three things, you probably have a credit record stored by Equifax.
To help protect yourself if your personal information was leaked by Equifax, you can sign up for a lifetime Equifax credit monitoring service. This means Equifax will let you know if someone is applying for credit in your name—meaning they could run up bills and not pay them—and potentially affecting your credit score. They are also offering other benefits with this free service.
Based on the information I reviewed, the monitoring service appears to be a very good deal and is part of Equifax’s efforts to patch up their relationship with customers.
Protect Yourself – Tips for Strengthening Passwords
Changing passwords for your online accounts may seem like a nuisance, but having funds stolen from your bank account or clearing up your credit score ruined by thieves running up bills in your name are much more time-consuming problems. Consider these tips to create stronger password protection:
- Change your passwords about every six months or use a password manager. There are many password managers out there, Apple has its own, but Microsoft also has several good password managers that are secured.
- Here is a definition from Consumer Reports for password managers: A password manager will generate, retrieve, and keep track of super-long, crazy-random passwords across countless accounts for you, while also protecting all your vital online info—not only passwords but PINs, credit-card numbers and their three-digit CVV codes, answers to security questions, and more—with encryption so strong that it might take a hacker between decades and forever to crack. And to get all that security, you’ll only need to remember a single password, the one you use to unlock your so-called vault. Your login data will be locked down and, at the same time, remain right at your fingertips.
- Make sure you are not using one of the top five most used passwords used in the United States. Those passwords include “password”, “12345”, “password12345”, and various other fairly ridiculous passwords. Try not to use your personal information in your password if possible or if so, combine it with a series of numbers and special characters i.e. periods, exclamation points, etc. that are unique to you.
- In keeping up with your password protection, I would also include a list of your current passwords either digitally or hard copy with your Will or Powers of Attorney in a safe or safe-deposit box. If something were to happen to you, your Executor or family members could get access to email, your bank accounts and important documents. Be sure the person you give access to these accounts is someone your trust. If you are going to name someone as your Power of Attorney, I would always recommend that person be someone you trust anyway.
Protect Yourself – Tips for Protecting Your Social Media Accounts
First of all, do you know who owns your Facebook? The answer would be Facebook itself. Even though you created your Facebook and maybe spent hours and hours adding pictures, posts, and information to it, Facebook, the company, actually owns your Facebook account.
If something happened to you or you violate their terms of service, Facebook may completely delete your Facebook and all the posts and pictures you ever posted online.
If you pass away, there are three options to continue or discontinue your Facebook account.
- First, you can memorialize your Facebook account. This can be done either by yourself through a designation on the Facebook website before you pass away, through your Executor or Administrator with a Court Order, or by a close family member who can prove that that person is a close family member. By memorializing your Facebook, you leave your Facebook up and no further changes can be made to this account other than allowing your friends and family members to post thoughts and remembrances of you on your Facebook for as long as you would like to keep this alive. Some people think this helps the grieving process. I would recommend considering this option if you are very attached to your Facebook.
- The next option is to have your Facebook downloaded off-line so that your family members and friends can have your pictures and posts, etc. and then have your Facebook closed. This way you won’t pop up as someone’s friend suggestion down the road. As someone who has dealt with this personally, I would recommend trying to remove a deceased family member from Facebook to create any further damage in terms of emotional grief.
- The last option for Facebook is to simply have Facebook close your account and delete all of the content. If you don’t have anything of note on your Facebook and you really don’t have any interest in keeping your Facebook open once you pass away this is something you can preselect on your Facebook account or your Executor or Administrator can do this after you pass away.
Protect Yourself – Use New Texas Laws to Allow Access To Your Online Accounts
Recently, Texas passed the “Texas Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” or TRUFADAA. This Act allows a person (fiduciary) named by you, much like a Power of Attorney, to obtain access to your digital assets. These digital assets can include two things.
- The first type of digital asset includes social media, email accounts, and various things that require password protection because of personal information. These digital assets don’t necessarily make money. This would include things like Facebook, My Space, Instagram or Twitter, etc.
- The other type of digital asset is a website or blog that is profitable or at least is created for profit.
This new Act would allow you to use a form provided by an attorney or created by you, obtained online, or an estate planning service. The form names one, two or even three or more people to act on your behalf in case something happens to you in regard to your digital assets. If you have further questions about this type of planning, please be sure to visit an estate planning attorney like us!
Protect Yourself – AND Your Profitable Website or Blog
Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, there are website and blog platforms online that individual people and companies do own or can own. For example, this website that you are visiting right now is owned by the Weaver Firm – Attorneys. The most famous of these is “Huffington Post” which started as a blog and is now a multi-million dollar company.
If you created a blog or website that is profitable or if you believe your website may be profitable one day, you need to have a succession plan just like any other business.
As these types of websites become more and more common, I believe that litigation will increase as family members and friends fight over the profits and the rights to these websites. If you own a business, either an internet company or a company in the real world, you must have a succession plan either in the governing documents of the company or in your Will or Trust. If you need help setting up a plan for your business, please contact our office.
Protect Yourself & Your Heirs – Create a Digital Estate Plan
So, how does all of this I have discussed relate to estate planning? Well, I mentioned a few things including the new laws and planning in your Wills for your online business or your social media, but to wrap everything up in a nice little package, I would recommend creating an actual digital estate plan that goes along side your regular estate plan. This would include:
- List of passwords and other access to online accounts, emails, etc.
- Name at least one person (a fiduciary), preferably from a different generation, to handle your digital assets including access to emails, text messages, etc., access to businesses you run online including eBay accounts and Amazon accounts. This would also include designating websites like Facebook and Twitter to either terminate upon your death or to be memorialized depending on your personal situation.
- Add language in your Will allowing your Executor to deal with digital assets specifically as the legislature has not quite caught up with current technology and the law is very new on most of these topics.
Should you need help in planning–for distribution of your digital or tangible assets–please give us a call to schedule an appointment at 817-638-9016. We would be happy to meet with you about your estate plan as technology continues to change our lives.
I believe that estate planning, both digitally and non-digitally, will be crucial to avoiding costly litigation. We’re glad to help protect you, your family, and your online presence in the future.
By Travis Weaver, Attorney
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