What You Need to Know–and Do–to Keep Your Information Safe
Even in a world where information is more accessible than ever before, it remains shocking and can feel quite violating to learn personal data at a major organization was breached.
The recent data breach at Equifax, which may have affected as many as 143 million US consumers, was a quick study in how vulnerable our information is, and how easy that fact can be to forget.
Even if you were not a victim of the breach, you likely have questions about protecting your information. Here are some actions you can take today to help keep your personal information safe.
- Establish Online Logins
If you have any accounts, such as a credit card or cell phone plan, that currently do not have online account access attached to them, you should create that online access immediately. Having password-protected online access for each of your accounts helps prevent someone else from setting up an account on your behalf with your stolen information.
- Set Up Dual Verification
Most online accounts offer added security features such as dual verification, which requires you to provide a second form of identification to log in, such as a code texted to your cell phone. You should also take advantage of other security features like alerts or notifications for any questionable activity.
- Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
You can never be too vigilant about the activity happening on your various credit or bank card accounts. The more often you review your statements and activity, the sooner you will notice if something is amiss. While many card companies send alerts when suspicious behavior occurs, don’t rely on those notifications to take the place of your own assessment of your card activity.
You should enroll in a credit monitoring service, such as those offered by any of the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) or other providers, such as LifeLock. Look for a plan that has ongoing credit monitoring across the three credit bureaus, provides alerts when changes are made, and offers resolution assistance in the event of identity theft.
- Be Inventive with Security Questions and Passwords
We all know how easy it is to forget our passwords, and therefore how tempting it is to create something easily remembered, such as “password.” But the first rule of password security is to use letter and character configurations that are unique and hard to guess. The same rule applies to security questions. Consider providing an answer that doesn’t match the question to ensure no one could guess it. Hacker technology is advanced, and the more security you put in place on your end, the harder you make it for them.
- Enact a Security Freeze
In response to the breach, Equifax has made known to its customers the option of placing a security freeze on their file with all 3 credit agencies to prevent misuse. This is a measure you could consider if you believe you have been the victim of identity theft. Security freezes are an effective way of preventing an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name.
- Your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors.
- Creditors will not be able to gain access to your credit file unless you give permission by lifting the freeze.
- The freeze will remain on your file until you decide to remove or lift it.
- It typically takes 3 business days to lift a security freeze.
- If your credit file is frozen, creditors will not be able to see your credit score or access your credit file.
- New creditors will receive a message indicating your file is frozen; however, existing creditors and collection agencies will still have access to your credit file.
To place a freeze, you must contact each of the 3 credit bureaus. Enacting a security freeze typically requires you to provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number and other personal information. Fees vary based on where you live, but are commonly between $5 and $10. It is also important to understand the instances in which you may need to lift/remove a security freeze, and how to accomplish this with each credit bureau.
- Implement a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert will notify existing and potential creditors who access your credit file that you are a victim of identity theft. It requires anyone accessing your credit report to contact you before authorizing any requests or modifications to your credit line.
A fraud alert will only remain on your credit file for 90 days.
- Implement an Extended Fraud Alert
Like a fraud alert, an extended fraud alert requires creditors accessing your credit report to personally contact you before authorizing any requests to open or modify a credit line. Unlike a fraud alert, an extended alert lasts in perpetuity.
With this type of alert, you will be entitled to 2 free credits reports from each of the 3 credit bureaus, and your name will be deleted from prescreened credit and insurance offers for 5 years.
- Take Action Against Fraudulent Activity
If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, you should immediately contact https://www.identitytheft.gov to submit an identity theft report. To request a security freeze or contact the 3 credit bureaus, use the information and links below.