The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.
With the amount of personal information that lives online, it’s safest to just assume that your personal details have been stolen during a data breach, like last year’s massive Equifax hack.
The best way to protect yourself is to monitor your own credit for changes or irregularities, in case anyone tries to fraudulently open an account in your name.
Fortunately, monitoring your own credit is quick, easy, and free. Services like Credit Sesame will let you know as soon as something happens, so that you can catch fraud before it becomes a major problem.
When credit reporting agency Equifax announced a massive data breach last September, people began worrying about what that could mean for them. Since personal details, including names and social security numbers, of nearly 150 people had been stolen, nearly half of the United States was suddenly at increased risk of identity theft.
While some people worried, I was a bit blasé about it. The fact is, we live in a day and age where all of our personal information is online somewhere. Names, social security numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, medical history, college grades, photos, job applications, background checks, every message you’ve ever sent or received, and more, all live in databases somewhere, potential targets for hackers.
Combine that reality with the news over the past few years of other major data breaches at health insurance companies, retailers, utility providers, and even the federal government, and I’ve figured that by now, we all might as well just assume that our data is out there somewhere.
That’s why the best thing you can do is take matters into your own hands to protect your identity.
“It’s important to monitor your credit regularly because you can easily see if there is any potentially fraudulent activity on any of your accounts, such as a new credit card you don’t recognize,” said Claire Tak, Head of Content for Credit Sesame, a service that lets users monitor their credit for free. “If there is something you don’t recognize on your accounts, you can quickly take action and alert your credit card company and the bureaus, before freezing your accounts.”
As Tak says, the earlier you spot fraudulent activity, the easier it will be to mitigate the damage. Otherwise, identity theft can be an expensive, time-consuming, massive headache.
Fortunately, monitoring your own credit is easy.
There are a multitude of services and credit cards that offer variations of your credit score — for example, if you have a Chase Freedom Unlimited card and log in to your account, you can see a weekly updated score.
However, there are three services that I’ve found are the best to use to make sure that monitoring absolutely everything across the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).
The three services are free, easy, and low maintenance, so I suggest everyone sign up for all of them. If you’re at a higher risk than normal — for instance, if you know that your information has been compromised and sold, or you have reason to suspect you’re already a victim of identity theft — each service also offers paid products, including identity repair.
At the very least, everyone should have a free Credit Sesame account to monitor their credit. Of all the services available, it’s one of the simplest, most straightforward, and most comprehensive.
Credit Sesame offers you your credit score, updated monthly, based on your Transunion credit bureau profile. You can also view a “credit report card” outlining each factor that makes up your credit score, as well as a more detailed breakdown of your accounts so that you can see if anything looks off, such as the reported balance on a credit card, or loans opened fraudulently in your name.
Crucially, Credit Sesame also offers real-time monitoring and alerts so that you’ll know right away whenever there’s a change to your TransUnion report. You’ll also have access to a handful of resources to help you find ways to continue building your credit or improve your score if it’s not as high as it could be.
The most unique thing about Credit Sesame, though, is that it offers all free account-holders $50,000 worth of identity theft insurance, as well as support through the process of identity restoration. That’s an incredible amount of coverage for free. The insurance offers coverage for things like legal fees and lost wages. If you’re particularly worried or at-risk, Credit Sesame’s paid memberships come with up to $1 million in coverage.
Personally, I stick with the free account, as it seems like more than enough — especially since, with credit monitoring set up, I’ll presumably catch any fraud quickly, before much damage is done.
Credit Karma is another free service that offers credit monitoring. It shows you the scores from two bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax, and updates every week — however, because the information on your credit reports only update every month or so, when your various statements close, you may not see much difference week-to-week.
Like Credit Sesame, Credit Karma shows you a breakdown of the factors that make up your credit score, but it offers a more detailed full credit report. I use this as a complement to Credit Sesame; if I ever spot an irregularity on Credit Sesame, but need more information, I’ll head over to Credit Karma to see what’s going on.
Credit Karma also offers real-time alerts and monitoring, although it doesn’t have identity theft insurance for free account users.
If you keep an eye on your credit and set up monitoring alerts, you’ll know as soon as anyone tries to steal your identity, and you can take quick, easy steps to limit and reverse the damage. With that simple defense, you won’t have to worry the next time a major data breach makes headlines.