Roughly 143 million Americans – just shy of half of the country – had their personal information stolen this summer when hackers broke into the databases of credit reporting agency Equifax.
Identity theft is no joke and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. As technology has crept into more and more areas of our lives, people are generally sharing their private information more than they ever have before. Last year alone, more than 15 million people were victims of identity theft for a total of $16 billion stolen.
We want to share a few timeless ways you can protect yourself, but first, here’s the latest news on what you can do specifically regarding the Equifax breach.
Equifax has set up a page where you can check if you were impacted. If you go through the process, you might receive this message: “We believe your personal information was not impacted by this incident.” That’s nice to hear, but I don’t like how they insert the word “believe” in there. Turns out they can’t say for sure if your information was compromised, but they seem to have a pretty good idea.
Equifax is also offering a free year of credit protection through TrustedID Premier to everyone, whether they think you were impacted or not (note: TrustedID Premier is run by Equifax, so it’s understandable if that doesn’t make you feel any safer). To sign up, just click “Enroll” after you do the impact check. You don’t have to give them your credit card or be auto-enrolled in anything.
If they say you’re in the clear, that’s great, but like I said, they can’t be 100 percent sure. Here are three tips we recommend for protecting your credit from the impact of identity theft, both now and in the future.
1. Request a fraud alert on your credit
This isn’t the best route, but it’s a simple step you can take immediately. A fraud alert acts like a stop sign – it tells anyone who looks at your credit that you may have been subjected to fraud, so they should examine any activity very closely. It’s a great way to add a layer of protection, but it’s also temporary – fraud alerts only stay on your report for ninety days.
2. Put a security freeze on your account
A credit freeze makes it impossible for anyone (including you) to open a credit card or other account using your information. No one can even look at your information other than creditors and companies you have an existing account with. This seems to be the current favorite route from the news I’m seeing around the web.
Sure, this makes credit-related activities a little more difficult, but if you need it unfrozen, just provide your PIN and it’ll be unfrozen within three business days. A freeze might cost you a little money depending on where you live (for instance, in Washington, it costs $10 if you haven’t been the victim of ID theft, but it’s free in New York), but it could be worth it. (Bonus: Equifax just announced they’ll waive the fee for anyone who wants a credit freeze until Nov. 21 of this year.)
You have to request a freeze from each of the three reporting companies, which you can do online or over the phone using the links and numbers below:
3. Sign up for a credit and/or identity monitoring service
A lot of credit monitoring services work like smoke alarms. They tell you there’s a fire, but that’s it. They don’t put it out or call the fire department for you. If you choose to hire a monitoring service, we recommend using a company that also offers recovery services, meaning they won’t just tell you when you fall victim to fraud – they’ll help you clean up afterward.
Most credit monitoring services also offer identity monitoring services, meaning they’ll watch out for your personal information being used in ways that generally don’t show up on credit reports, such as check cashing, social media, court records, and more.
Most monitoring companies offer some form of identity theft insurance, which can help you recoup your losses. We recommend reading any insurance policies closely to make sure you understand exactly what’s covered before signing anything.
At TFS, we take security very seriously, so our clients can know that their information is safe with us. If you want to talk about other steps you can take to protect your personal information, send us a message or you can call us at (425) 776-0446.