Identity theft is always a risk, but the recent massive data breach at Equifax underscores how important it is to be vigilant in monitoring our accounts and credit reports.This breach was particularly serious because it contained names, addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth - just the things a thief needs to open new accounts in your name.
Hopefully this will motivate you to set up a system to monitor your own financial records.
Not sure where to start? Here are some steps to follow:
- Contact one of the 3 main credit bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report. The alert will make it more difficult for someone else to open more accounts in your name, but experts have noted that this just slows the process, it won’t prevent it completely. The alert will only stay in place for 90 days and must be renewed. Equifax (800-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289)
- Obtain your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com and review the reports for accuracy. This should be an annual exercise for anyone living on the grid in the modern age.
- Review all bank accounts and credit card statements often for fraudulent charges.
- Consider placing a freeze on your credit which generally stops all access to your credit report. You may not want to take this step if you are planning to apply for credit in the near future as it takes several days to unfreeze your account.
- Sign up for credit monitoring service which will alert you if an account is opened using your name and Social Security number. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for 12 months, but there are other options on the market if you are understandably not interested in working with them.
- Beware of credit card repair scams! People will use this data breach to try to take advantage of you. Read this to learn how to Protect Yourself from Credit Repair Scams.
Learn more steps to protect yourself from these trusted sources:
- Consumer Reports - Protect your ID
- Jill Schlesinger - Equifax Data Breach - what to do
Keeping our private information safe is more and more difficult in our increasingly digital world. Hopefully the government will pass some common-sense legislation soon requiring companies to notify the public immediately (not more than a month later!) when a breach does occur. Regardless, we will have to stay vigilant.