Protecting personal credit against identity theft, is a growing concern in America. Confidential information can be bought on the ‘dark web’ and used to acquire credit cards, loans, government issued identification and more. It can take years to build a positive personal credit rating, but only a few missteps, to do damage that could take a long time to correct. And we trust government, healthcare and credit bureaus to help us keep that information safe; that’s why the Equifax data breach was so shocking.
For our team, it is an opportunity to discuss how the breach may impact fraudulent telemarketing and online sales activity in the coming year. We’ll also share how we think 2018 may see a large uptick in timeshare fraud, as a result of this breach. We will also offer some tips to help protect your family from telemarketing or online fraud.
The Details of the Equifax Data Breach
In one of the largest recent data breaches in America, Equifax released a statement that 143 million records were compromised. By comparison, in 2016, Yahoo reported a large data breach that impacted more than 1 billion email accounts. In that incident, the information was limited to telephone numbers, email addresses, birth dates and passwords, but it made the news and people were concerned.
The Equifax hack however, exposed far more sensitive information, including complete names, social security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, and driver’s license numbers. Equifax also confirmed that 209,000 credit card numbers were compromised, with an additional 182,000 dispute and support documents, with personal identifiers.
What has been most difficult for consumers to understand, was why it took Equifax a reported 40 day waiting period, before they released the information to the public. Investigators commented that time was required to collect digital forensics for the criminal case. Nonetheless, it was over 40 days later, that consumers had the first indication, that their financial and personal information has been compromised. By that time, they had already been exposed to online fraudsters.
Is it difficult to imagine an individual using your personal credit, to secure a loan, or purchase a timeshare? Knowing what we do about contract law and fraud, we can speculate that criminals are already fighting over the Equifax leaked data, on the dark web. Information that will be used to prequalify Americans for ‘special offers’ and limitless fraudulent services and opportunities; some of those will definitely involve the timeshare industry.
Are Timeshare Owners at Risk?
Criminal investigators will not be able to fully measure the impact of the Equifax data breach, on instances of identity theft and fraudulent activity. Because of this recent hack of confidential information, illegal timeshare sales and reseller companies will also have access to details about consumers, including personal information about income. That makes current timeshare owners, and anyone who has researched or applied for a timeshare loan, a likely target.
Think about the other data that a credit bureau collects. Financial institutions want a clear synopsis of the consumer, including age, income ability, spending habits, payment history and other personal information. In the wrong hands, this information could be used to qualify consumers accurately (and illegally) for timeshare sales. There is a specific target market that the timeshare industry looks for, which includes the following criteria:
Average to good credit
Household income at or over $53,000 per year
Married or in common law relationship (two incomes)
Purchases or credit history that indicates an interest in vacation travel
Large and reputable timeshare resorts, have plenty of marketing resources that are legal, and effective at recruiting new buyers. We do not imply that larger organizations would be prone to illegal activity, but rather refer to fraud alerts regarding small operations, that specialize in timeshare sales or reselling services. Take a look at ‘Inside the Gate’ and their timeshare fraud news section, to see how many legal cases make the news every month.
Four Ways Protect Yourself from Data Breaches and Identity Fraud
What can consumers expect, in an era where it seems government, hospital and financial organizations cannot be trusted to keep confidential information secure? There are a number of strategies that individuals and families can take, to prepare for fraudulent sales and marketers.
Use a Shredder
How many times do you, or your family members, dispose of paper statements from credit cards, banking institutions, or government correspondence? Did you know that most government correspondence can contain a social security number, date of birth, address and even credit card information, on one single form?
Using your residential garbage to dispose of documents is not a good idea. Purchase a shredder, and dispose of potentially sensitive documents in a secure way, to reduce identity theft.
Check Your Credit Monthly
How often do you check your personal credit history? Some people make a point to do it annually, but financial advisors recommend using a free or paid credit reporting service, to review every thirty-days. While it takes forever to build a credit rating, it can take as little as three months and a few incidents, to create significant damage.
Individuals who check their credit bureau report monthly, enjoy peace of mind knowing that they haven’t been compromised. And if there is a problem or fraudulent activity, they are in a position to do something about it quickly (rather than waiting and allowing more complications to develop).
Talk to Seniors About Digital Fraud
If your parents are aged 70 or older, and still independently residing in their own home, it benefits everyone to have a conversation about online and telemarketing fraud. Explain what a fraudulent phone pitch or offer may sound like, so they will be prepared to hang up, or report suspected incidents to the authorities.
Protect Your Home Network and Mobile Devices
Did you know that cell phones, and home wireless networks are two common ways that hackers access confidential financial and personal information? Both a firewall and a password protected, secure Wi-Fi network will help protect your household against identity theft and online fraud.
If you thought that fraudsters had information about you before, there is even more cause for concern now, following the Equifax data breach. It is a good time to review best practice, when it comes to monitoring and managing your personal credit information.
Watch for discrepancies, fraudulent charges on credit cards, and other suspicious activity. Consider a service that provides credit monitoring alerts, to stay informed as soon as there is a problem.