Identity Theft: Protect Yourself After a Data Breach

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Everybody needs to be vigilant now that data breaches and identity theft have become common occurrences.

You wake up, take a sip of your morning coffee, and turn on the TV. The news anchors report that another data breach occurred. Your stomach drops. Once again, your most personal information may be compromised.

More and more of our days start out like this. In just the first half of 2017, hackers hit companies 690 times—up from a reported 357 during the same period just four years ago. Unfortunately, the financial ramifications can resonate for years if hackers take action on the information they’ve stolen or sell it on the dark web. 

Taking precautions

Cybercriminals took the personal information of more than 143 million consumers2 from the credit bureau, Equifax, in a hack that was first reported in September 2017. In terms of individuals impacted, this was not the largest amount of compromised records in history. However, the data that was taken from this major credit bureau made it one of the most critical breaches in the last decade or so. 

Sadly, no matter what precautions you might take, the chance your personal information—Social Security number, driver’s license number, birthday, etc.—was or will be part of a data breach is high. If you’re feeling anxious, the first step is to remain calm. You’re not alone—many others were affected, too.

Here are the next three steps you can take ranked by effort and cost:

  1. Minor: Keep an eye on your bank and credit accounts Don’t throw that paper statement in the recycling bin or erase that email before you take a closer look at it each month. Regularly log in to review your activities online, too. You could even enable notifications on your phone’s credit card app to see when a purchase is made in real time.
  2. Medium: Sign up for credit monitoring services Would you rather have someone else take the time to review your finances? Fraud-protection specialists can watch for any out-of-the-ordinary behavior on your accounts and ensure you’re notified if new ones are opened in your name without your knowledge. They’ll alert you to any suspicious activity. Some are free, including Credit Karma, while others may require ongoing payment. Some companies, such as LifeLock, offer consumers their monitoring services for between $9.99 and $29.99 depending on what level of protection is sought. The four—yes, four—national credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis, also offer their own versions of these paid memberships.
  3. Major: Freeze your credit Pay a fee, and you can essentially shut down all access to your credit report. This requires reaching out to each of the four national credit reporting companies:

Equifax
https://www.equifax.com
866-640-2273

Experian
https://www.experian.com
888-397-3742

TransUnion
https://www.transunion.com
888-909-8872

Innovis
https://www.innovis.com
800-540-2505

Once this occurs, lenders will not have access to your credit. This prevents anyone from opening fraudulent accounts or applying for loans in your name. Depending on where you live, freezing your account can cost anywhere from free to $10 at each agency. It will have no impact on current accounts.

Just make sure you’re not in the market for a home or car loan, applying for a credit card, or even looking for a new cell phone plan. As long as your accounts are frozen, no new accounts can be created—even if it’s you requesting them. To lift the freeze from your credit, simply reach back out to the four companies and pay an additional charge to turn things back on again. Four states—Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota—automatically remove your credit freeze after seven years.

Seeking additional guidance

You may not be able to prevent every cyber attack, but your options to fight back are fairly straightforward. Be vigilant. Get help if you can. If all else fails, freeze your credit until you need to access it.

If you still have questions on what to do next, set up a time to talk with your financial advisor. He or she can potentially be a great source of information if you’re debating what steps to take the next time your morning coffee is ruined by more bad news about data breaches. 

Ongoing Safeguards

  1. Only share personal data with trusted sources. Make sure you’re on a secure connection while sharing information online.
  2. Use services such as PayPal, Apple Pay, or Android Pay to make purchases online more secure. Instead of passing along bank, credit, or debit card numbers and your contact information, these services maintain control of that data.
  3. Check your credit with the major credit reporting companies regularly through the free Annual Credit Report program (AnnualCreditReport.com). Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free check every 12 months.

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