It seems like there’s a new hack or data breach almost every day. To add insult to injury, we’re finding out some major breaches, like those at Equifax and Yahoo!, are even worse than originally thought. With millions of consumers affected by the hacks at multiple organizations, it can become overwhelming. What can you do to protect yourself from identity theft and safeguard your information?
Order a Credit Report
Consumers are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you haven’t requested your reports in the last 12 months, now is a good time to do so. AnnualCreditReport.com is a great place to start. Once you have your reports, look them over carefully for signs of fraud such as accounts you didn’t open and inquiries you didn’t authorize.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit File
Contact one of the major credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert on your file. They will then contact the other agencies to have that alert placed on those files as well. This service is free. It only lasts for 90 days, but you’ll have the option to continue it at the end of each period. A fraud alert lets the agencies know that your information may have been compromised and you want them to use extra care in fielding requests for credit.
Check Your Accounts
You probably already do this, but now it’s extra important to keep an eye on bank statements and credit accounts. Look for charges that you did not make and report suspected fraudulent activity immediately. Also keep an eye on your health insurance and medical information as this is another popular type of identity theft. If you find evidence of theft, alert the organizations where the theft occurred.
Report Theft Immediately
If you learn that your identity has been stolen, you can report this to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their website, IdentityTheft.gov. You can also use this site to get more information about what to do in case of theft. In addition, file a report with your local police department. Taking the official steps alerts businesses that you have been the victim of identity theft and you are working to resolve the situation.
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection
Credit monitoring services can help you keep an eye on your credit and identity. They will look out for attempts to open new lines of credit in your name and other fraudulent activity. Some will also monitor for arrest warrants, address changes, and the opening of utility accounts under your identity. Should your information be used by someone else, many of these services will help you to correct the situation, offer legal help, and, in some cases, provide you with financial protection. There are many products available, so be sure to research them carefully and choose the one that most fits your needs.
Consider a Credit Freeze or Lock
A credit freeze will basically halt access your credit. No one will be able to open credit in your name, not even you. A credit freeze typically costs about $10 or less for each bureau and will remain in place until you remove it. Removing it or temporarily lifting it can also cost money. If you’re going to need to open a line of credit, obtain a mortgage, apply for a job or apartment, purchase a new insurance policy, or take out an auto loan, you will not be able to if you’ve placed a freeze on your credit. You’ll be given a PIN at the time of the freeze and you’ll need to retain it to lift the freeze. If you lose it, you’ll have a very difficult time unfreezing your credit.
A less invasive measure is to place a lock on your credit. These are easier to lift or remove and do not require a PIN. However, you may be charged a monthly fee for as long as your credit is locked, and you may have multiple fees if you lock it with multiple institutions. If you’re going to be applying for a loan, job or apartment, a lock may be an easier option.
The New Normal
Unfortunately, it seems that identity theft concerns are simply part of life these days. While you’re taking personal steps like using complicated passwords that you change frequently and safeguarding your information as best as possible, you still have little control over how other establishments protect your information. In light of this, you’ll need to always be on the offensive when it comes to personal data.
All insurance policies are different. Be sure to review your insurance policy for specific information about coverages available to you. Nothing in this post is meant to suggest a guarantee of coverage.