Equifax Data Breach: Here’s what to do if you haven’t acted yet


criminal looking through computer data

If you’ve been immobilized about taking action related to the mammoth Equifax data breach, you’re not alone – many people have been. The sheer enormity and scope of the breach – 143 million records in the US alone – left many feeling hopeless. There have been big breaches before so it is easy to become numb to the significance, but this is a truly alarming incident that merits a response. Equifax, as one of the nation’s big three credit reporting bureaus, has access to your most sensitive personal data, including your birth date, Social Security number, driver’s license, address, account history and more.

We’ve gathered the best consumer advice we’ve found from trusted sources on what you can do to protect yourself.

First up: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has compiled an excellent summary page: The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do. It explains more about the breach and the steps that you should take to protect yourself. FTC also points to a very useful site from IdentityTheft.gov related to what you should to when your information is lost or exposed. In a simple drop down menu, they guide you through the steps you should take for various types of exposure, including information about specific breaches. You can see more about these services in this video clip:

Next up: This brief video from AARP is also quite good. Here’s the accompanying article: How to Protect Your Personal Data From Hackers.

Finally, more excellent advice on actions consumers should take comes from Trend Micro, the digital security firm. Their Simply Security blog features a post on The Equifax Data Breach: What Do I Do Next? At the end f the post, they offer a bulleted list of action stops.

Key links you need:

Your seasonal flu prevention reminder!


fight the flu graphic

Flu season runs from October through May, generally peaking from December through March. Flu vaccines can take a few weeks to kick in so it’s good to get your shot early. Find out the place closest to you at the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

Health experts say that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, but it’s particularly important for people at high risk for developing potentially serious complications. These include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who have medical conditions

There are a lot of myths about the flu and vaccines – for example, many people think you can get the flu from a vaccine or that healthy people don’t need a vaccine. Harvard Medical School separates fact from fiction in 10 Flu Myths. Another common myth is that the flu is just a very bad cold – wrong! This Healthcare Triage video explains the difference.

Choose the right seat: It’s Child Passenger Safety Week


illustration of child car safety seats for child safety passenger week

If you have a child between the ages of 1 and 13 or know someone who does, listen up: This week  – September 17-23 is Child Passenger Safety Week – sponsored by the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13, but many deaths and injuries can be prevented by the proper use of car seats, boosters and seat belts. A lot of attention is given to infant car seat, but as children grow, how they sit in your car will change. That’s why it’s so important to make age and size adjustments and choose and use the right car seat correctly every time your child is in the car.

This NHTSA site offers valuable help and resources for choosing the right seat. Learn to:

  • Choose the right seat. Learn the difference between rear-facing seat, forward-facing, boosters and belts.
  • Find the car seat that fits your child’s current size and age and get age-based recommendations
  • Use the Car Seat Finder, an easy-to-use tool that compares seats and ease-of-use ratings to help find the right car seat for your child.
  • Learn tips to install and anchor seats correctly
  • Find out where to get your car seat inspected by a certified technician
  • Register your car seat to receive important safety updates
Posted in Uncategorized

Protect your kids from electrical shocks


child playing with electrical outlet

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says that every year, about 2,400 children suffer severe shock and burns when they stick keys, pens, paperclips and other small items into electrical outlets, Many parents put covers or caps on the outlets, but studies show this is not a particularly effective deterrent to little fingers – a study by Temple University found that 100% of all 2-4 year olds were able to remove one type of plastic outlet cap within 10 seconds.

There’s a better solution called tamper resistant receptacles, or TRRs, that offer a simple, affordable, reliable and permanent solution to help protect kids. They look just like ordinary outlets but are equipped with spring-loaded receptacle cover plates to close off the opening slots. Since 2008, the National Electrical Code has required them to be installed in all new home construction – but many older homes do not have them. If you have children, you may want to consider converting to them – but TRRs should only be installed license electricians.

Used car buyers beware: Don’t get hosed by flood-damaged cars


flood damaged cars partially submerged on a street

Used car buyer beware! That shiny used car with low mileage might look like a good deal, but take care that you aren’t buying a flood damaged car. It’s estimated that some half million vehicles were flooded in Texas and Louisiana during Hurricane Harvey, and there are sure to be many more after Irma. Resellers can be pretty good at the cosmetics so you could be deceived – engine and electrical problems may not be readily apparent.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) defines a flooded vehicle as one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.

According to Ronny Pucino, a body shop owner in Rhode Island, there are three main elements in a car that are affected by flooding: the upholstery, the engine and the electronics. The extent of any damage depends largely on the level of water that the car experienced. Cars that have had wheel-top level damage may be able to be salvaged if the owner acted quickly to address the damage. But when water reaches as high as the dashboard, it is more likely that the engine and the electronics have been compromised and the car will be unsalvageable.

Being alert for flood-damaged cars should be of concern to all used car buyers, regardless of geography. Often, damaged cars are professionally refurbished and shipped to other parts of the country to be sold. Experts say that flood-damaged cars end up going to places where consumers won’t be likely to be on alert. Even when cars “clean up nice,” they may well have electrical or engine damage. Flood-damaged vehicles often surface in auctions and “for sale by owner” scenarios.

Edmunds.com offers good tips on how to avoid buying a flood damaged car. They present 6 tell-tale tips, which we’ve summarized, but click on the article for more detail.

1. Get a vehicle history report.
2. Be alert to unusual odors.
3. Look for discolored carpeting.
4. Examine the exterior for water buildup.
5. Inspect the undercarriage.
6. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas.

The NICB has released this list of Flood Vehicle Fraud Prevention Tips:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust, Copper will show a green patina.
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

CARFAX offers more tips for detecting and avoiding flood-damaged cars. They also offer vehicle history reports for a fee, which could be a worthwhile investment if you find a car you’re thinking of purchasing.

One other consumer service is the NICB’s VINcheck, a free service provided to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by cooperating NICB members. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to perform a search, and a maximum of five VINCheck searches can be conducted within a 24 hour period.

DMV.org talks more about VIN checks, offering a diagram showing where you can typically find a car’s VIN. They note that although there are many free VIN services, if you want a detailed report, you may have to pay a fee. We think you should also invest the cost for having a mechanic check over a used car before you buy it. Both steps could be a worthwhile investment to save you from later headaches. A good VIN check can tell you these things about a vehicle:

  • Past ownership.
  • Any liens held on the vehicle.
  • Vehicle maintenance.
  • Title history blemishes.
  • Faulty odometer settings.
  • Flood damage.
  • Accident history.
  • Car title check.
  • Whether a vehicle was determined to be a lemon.
  • Airbag deployments.