On September 8, 2017 Equifax, one of the three largest credit bureaus, reported that in May-July of this year hackers had breached as many as 143 million Americans. This one is of particular concern because of the type of data that was likely obtained—social security numbers, full names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, etc. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Monitor your credit report
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to see your credit report from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). You can obtain your free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. Here’s how to yearly monitor your credit report without paying for additional reports.
- Go to annualcreditreport.com and fill in the correct information, selecting 1 of the 3 credit bureaus.
- Review your information. Any errors need to be fixed via snail mail. If you see any errors the credit bureau you select will now fix those problems and will report the problems to the other two bureaus.
- Repeat every 4 months choosing a different credit bureau.
Purchase credit monitoring services
Consider purchasing credit monitoring services. Experian is offering free credit monitoring services in the wake of the data breach. In my personal opinion, tread lightly and make sure you read all of the fine print. You may be giving up legal rights if your identity was stolen during this data breach.
Consider freezing your credit
A more permanent, and in my opinion, a method that would let me sleep soundly at night would be to freeze your credit. For a small fee, $5-10, this will actually restrict access to your credit. This is a good idea especially if you are not needing access to your credit (opening a credit card, financing a car, buying a home, etc.). Your credit will remain frozen until you actively unfreeze it. So if you need to buy a car you can unfreeze it and then re-freeze your credit after. Even with the small charges each time you freeze/unfreeze your credit it will still probably be less compared to the monthly fees a credit monitoring system charges.
Practice diligence and safety with your personal information
This data breach is also a good reminder to practice diligence and protect what information you put on the internet.
- Be careful about what you post to social media.
- Double check that your online purchase is from a secured host.
- Do not give out your social security number or credit card number over the phone.
- Regularly check your credit score and report.
- Be leery about clicking on links in emails. Hackers have gotten really good at making emails look legit!
And most importantly,
- In general, if it seems too good to be true…it probably is.
You cannot be too safe with your identity and money. Protect yourself and your family by protecting your finances.