Here we go again… only this time it’s not just stolen card data from a retailer like Target. As I’m sure you read over the weekend, ALL of your personal information (birth date, Social Security number, etc.) was potentially compromised by the credit rating agency, Equifax, earlier this summer.
At this point, we think it’s perfectly appropriate to be a little paranoid – and to act accordingly. Even if you’ve checked the Equifax site and your personal data wasn’t exposed this time, we recommend the following steps, including freezing your credit, to shield against future breaches. The action items below vary in degree of annoyance, but compared to the aftermath of a stolen identity, they are a walk in the park:
Freeze Your Credit. What does this mean? In basic terms, freezing your credit means placing restrictions on who can view your credit report. Why is this important? Well, applying for housing, checking accounts or new credit cards can all involve a credit pull by mortgage lenders or banks. If you prevent them from pulling your credit, it’ll frustrate the fraudsters who need these organizations’ approval to open fake accounts using your stolen identity. Freezing your credit comes with a $0-$10 charge for each credit bureau. Read more about the process from the Federal Trade Commission here.
1) Make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network.
2) Visit the following links to freeze your credit:
3) Keep up with your PIN numbers!
Fraud Alerts are also available from each agency, but can only be established for a limited period of time, usually up to 90 days. Once in place, potential creditors contact you for confirmation anytime you (or a thief) tries to open a new account. This also seems like a reasonable, additional precaution just to see if anyone is trying to use your information in the wake of the Equifax breach. The following links to activate fraud alerts at the major agencies:
Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize. Freezing your credit and establishing temporary fraud alerts have no bearing on accounts that are already open. Being vigilant with regard to activety on your existing accounts is still necessary.
Check your Credit Report regularly. You can do that for free at annualcreditreport.com by checking one of the three agencies every four months. There are services that also alert you each time your score changes.
File your taxes early. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund that belongs to you by filing your taxes before you do. Also be sure to respond right away to any letters you receive from the IRS.
Don’t automatically opt for credit monitoring. According to Consumer Reports: “Credit monitoring alerts you alter you when there is activity in your credit file. As part of an identity theft protection package, it may be accompanied by other goodies, such as lost wallet protection, ID theft insurance, and access to your credit score. We don’t recommend buying any of these services, which can be costly and may deliver less than they promise. Credit monitoring may be worth considering if a merchant offers it to you at no charge because of a data breach. But Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center advises consumers to read the fine print first. She says some credit monitoring contracts require you to arbitrate any claims against a credit bureau, potentially eliminating your right to sue if a bureau acted improperly. And think twice about accepting free credit monitoring if it requires you to hand over your credit card number or other billing information that the monitoring service can use to charge you when the free monitoring period expires.”