Cybersecurity and identity theft have become serious points of discussion over the past couple years. I read an article the other day that gave a scary statistic, “approximately 7% of U.S. households fall victim to identify theft each year.” This statistic was released by the Better Business Bureau back in September 2016. As scary as this number might be, it does not include events such as the recent cyberattack of Equifax that compromised the financial data of some 143 million Americans. It is time to ask, “How can I protect myself?”
Have you been compromised?
If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you know that the odds are against you. The current population of the United States is approximately 325 million. Equifax estimates that 143 million Americans were affected by their recent hack. That is approximately 44 percent of the U.S. population!
If you have not already done so, I encourage you to check and see if you were affected. You can check your status by visiting the Equifax website or clicking the link below.
Once on the website, you will be asked to enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. The Equifax website will then will then display the following:
“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information has not been impacted by this incident.”
“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”
So…You’ve been affected
If you have been affected, I encourage you to take action immediately. Due to the massive breach, Equifax has agreed to offer its credit monitoring service, Trusted ID, free for one year. To receive this free service, you must enroll by January 31, 2018. If you have not already done so, consider taking advantage of this service. If you do not feel comfortable giving Equifax more personal information and relying on them to guard your data, there are other, more comprehensive credit monitoring services available such as Lifelock and IdentityForce, but they are not free.
Trusted ID offers subscribers:
- A copy of your Equifax credit report
- Credit report monitoring for all three credit bureaus
- Ability to lock and unlock your Equifax credit file
- Social security number monitoring
- $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy that covers certain out-of-pocket expenses
Although the implications of the breach go far beyond the scope of the services offered by Trusted ID, it is still better than nothing. Your free year of service begins the day you register and ends one year later. Please be aware, the product does not auto renew and will expire after the one year mark. At this point, your credit monitoring will stop.
The fine print…
In addition to signing up for Trusted ID, you should also be proactive in protecting yourself. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided the following steps to take to help protect yourself.
- Check your credit reports from all three credit bureaus.
- Consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit files.
- Closely monitor the transactions on your credit cards and bank accounts.
- File your taxes as early as possible.
Should you freeze your credit and what does this mean?
In light of the Equifax data breach, many news outlets are suggesting that you freeze your credit. What does this mean exactly? When your apply for credit, such as applying for a new credit card, a mortgage, or an automobile loan, the company issuing the credit will run a credit check. Your credit history is housed and complied by three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you freeze your credit, these credit bureaus will not release your credit history to anyone—with some exceptions, such as yourself and pre-existing creditors. If the company issuing the credit does not receive your credit history from these bureaus, it is unlikely that the company will issue the new credit. This is how freezing your credit can provide protection against potential fraudsters.
Freezing your credit does have some drawbacks though.
- There is a fee to freeze your credit. When freezing your credit, it is important to freeze your credit at all three credit bureaus. It does little good to freeze your credit at only one bureau if your credit history can be accessed at one of the others. Currently, due to the recent breach, Equifax has agreed to waive its fee, but Experian and TransUnion still charge a minimal fee.
- It can be inconvenient if you need to get a new credit card, get a car loan, or refinance your home. In this situation, you would have to call the credit agency, recite a PIN that was issued when initially frozen, pay a fee to lift the freeze, wait several days for the freeze to be lifted, and then reestablish the freeze afterwards.
- Freezing your credit does not provide any security for credit that is already in place. Freezing your credit would not provide any protection against a fraudster using your credit card information to make unauthorized purchases. In this situation, you would have to rely on the fraud prevention policy of that individual credit card. The good news is that most credit cards companies do not hold customers liable for fraudulent charges.
- Freezing your credit does not protect your investment accounts, retirement accounts, or bank accounts.
Are there options other than freezing your credit?
Freezing your credit can be inconvenient. If the idea of having your credit locked is too burdensome, there are other measures that you can take, but they are somewhat less effective. One alternative is to receive fraud alerts from the credit bureaus. A fraud alert puts a proverbial red flag on your credit report. If a creditor tries to run your credit, you will be alerted. If you did not initiate the transaction, you can choose to not release your report. The credit bureaus offer this as a free service. One downside to fraud alerts is that they are only effective for 90 days. If you would like to continue receiving fraud alerts, you would need to reactivate the service after it has expired. If you have previously been a victim of identity theft, you can receive fraud alerts up to seven years.
Other alternatives include identity theft prevention services, such as Lifelock and IdentityForce. (In the coming weeks, a full article will be dedicated to identity theft protection services). Services such as these have become household names over the past couple of years. When it comes to protecting your credit and your identity, be vigilant! Get into the habit of checking your accounts regularly. Additionally, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can request your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Take advantage of this free service and read through them thoroughly.
You can freeze your credit by going to:
You can request fraud alerts by going to: