It has been one year since credit monitoring company
announced that a “cybersecurity incident” had exposed names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license and credit card numbers from nearly 148 million Americans, which means that it’s time for an identity theft prevention check-in.
Although the Equifax incident affected nearly half of the U.S. population, it may shock you to learn that not too much has happened in the aftermath. Sure, there were congressional hearings, Equifax’s CEO Richard Smith resigned and, early this year, the company signed a consent order with regulators from eight states agreeing to improve oversight mechanisms, security audits and threat monitoring.
But if you were hoping for serious consumer reform, forget it. That means that the onus is still on you. Here are nine things you need to know about ID theft prevention:
If you want access to credit, whether to buy a house or a car or to open up a credit card account, you will be handing over your personal information to a credit-reporting agency. While you may have heard of “the big three,” Equifax,
, according to the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
, there are hundreds out there.
A “fraud alert” requires that a financial institution take steps to verify your identity before opening a new account, issuing an additional card or increasing the credit limit on an existing account. Alerts can make it a bit harder for criminals to mess with your file. They last 90 days, after which you can renew it.
A “credit-freeze” on your credit file generally stops all access to your credit report, including by you. That means that if you need to access credit, you have to unfreeze your records, which can take a few days. State law and/or a consumer reporting company’s policies dictate the availability of a freeze, which in some cases involves a small fee for placing or removing it. You need to contact each company directly to freeze your file: Equifax (800) 685-1111 (Automated, Option 3) or (888) 298-0045 (Live); Experian (888) 397-3742 (Option 2 followed by Option 2); TransUnion ((888) 909-8872).
If someone has used your information to make purchases or open accounts, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and print your Identity Theft Affidavit. Use that to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report.
Review your credit report every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find an error, report it immediately and stay on top of the process. A new federal law going into effect this month allows you to check your kids’ credit reports.
Review credit card statements and make sure that there are no fraudulent charges. While you’re at it, enroll in a credit card notification program in which the bank alerts you to charges over a preset amount.
Guard your information. Don’t provide a business with your Social Security number just because they ask for it; don’t provide personal information over the phone, through snail mail or via the internet unless you have initiated the contact or you know with whom you are dealing; and beware of over-sharing on social media, where criminals are finding valuable information.
Change logins and passwords monthly, use password generators and sign up for two-factor authentication.
Don’t send financial information on unsecured wireless networks and when making purchases, use a credit card, which has more fraud protections under federal law than debit cards or online payment services.
(Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes comments and questions at [email protected].)
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