What to do after the Equifax data breach
DEAR MR. MYERS: I contacted the Equifax credit bureau after reading your recent column about the thieves who hacked into the company’s files and stole a bunch of consumers’ personal financial information. I was glad to learn that my own files weren’t among them, but now my sister says that Equifax has admitted that the breach was much bigger than it initially believed. Is this true? If so, what should I do now?
ANSWER: Your sister is correct. Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit bureaus, announced on Oct. 1 that a review conducted by an outside firm it hired suggests that as many as 145.5 million files may have been comprised. That’s 2.5 million more than it had originally estimated several weeks ago.
From mid-May through July, Equifax says, the hacker or hackers had access to all of the information needed to steal identities. That includes Social Security numbers, birthdates, home addresses and (in some cases) driver’s license and credit card numbers.
Though your letter states that you have already checked with Equifax and learned that your personal files weren’t stolen, it wouldn’t hurt to ask again in the wake of the firm’s October annoucement. Call the company’s special telephone hotline (1-866-447-7559) or visit equifax online.
Like before, you’ll be asked for your last name and the final six digits of your Social Security number to quickly find whether your credit file was among those that were stolen.
As I wrote earlier, this is a good time for consumers to check their credit reports even if they weren’t exposed by the Equifax hackers. Readers can get free copies from each of the three major bureaus by visiting annualcreditreport.com or by calling the agency at 1-877-322-8228 if they haven’t made such a request during the past 12 months.
It will cost about $10 or $20 for each document if the accounts were accessed more recently.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Homeowners and other tax-return slackers (like me) who filed for an automatic six-month extension back in April should remember that their completed returns must be postmarked by Oct. 15 to avoid possible late fees and penalties levied by the Internal Revenue Service.
DEAR MR. MYERS: Is it true that one of my all-time favorite authors and playwrights, Ben Hecht, made a killing by speculating in Florida real estate in the 1920s?
ANSWER: Hecht, whose body of work ranged from the script of the original “Scarface” to the re-write of “Gone With the Wind,” didn’t dabble much in Florida real estate when its market first took off in the early 1920s. But he made a “killing” from the boom nonetheless, getting paid the then-princely sum of $2,500 each week to tout the state’s various attributes and its seemingly unending realty opportunities.
By his own admission, Hecht – who died in 1964, at the age of 70 - didn’t think that the Sunshine State’s roaring real estate market would last. He kept the $2,500 he earned each week inside his coat instead of depositing the cash into a bank, leading some to wonder why he was apparently putting on so much weight.
Hecht got the last laugh. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he was one of the few who escaped relatively unscathed because most of his money wasn’t stuck in worthless securities or failed banks. Instead, much of it was inside his jacket and strapped around his waist.
QUESTION: My wife and I are both in our 80s. We have owned our home together for nearly 40 years and the mortgage was paid off a long time ago, but now my sweetheart has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. We are both afraid that she will have to be placed in a special full-time facility if her condition worsens, but the cost would not be covered by Medicare. If she must be sent to a specialized home, would I be able to sell our property myself to help pay for the cost of her care?
ANSWER: Probably not. Assuming that you and your spouse hold title through the commonly used joint tenants with right of survivorship – or in the similar “tenants by the entireties” – both you and your wife would be required to sign a sales agreement or any other type of contract. That could be a huge problem if her illness eventually gets to the point where she must be transferred to a full-time care facility, because she likely would then lack the legal capacity to understand the decision she was making.
I am so deeply sorry for your current situation. I, too, have lost loved ones to this terrible memory-robbing disease.
Consult an attorney soon to discuss your options. One solution might be to ask a judge to appoint an independent conservator, such as a trusted relative or friend, who could legally act on your wife’s behalf. Many states don’t allow a spouse to act as a conservator, in part because it may create a conflict of interest.
If your wife still has most of her mental faculties intact, the lawyer might instead suggest that the two of you create a basic living trust and put your home and other assets into it. Both of you would be co-trustees while she’s still competent to make decisions on her own. But if her condition worsens and she must move to a full-time care facility, you could sell the home yourself and make other key decisions on her behalf.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.