If you’ve been following the news, you heard about the hack of Equifax, one of three US credit rating agencies. These types of agencies collect personal and financial information on millions of US citizens. That includes social security numbers, credit card and loan information. And now, over 140 million of us have to worry about identity fraud.
Read our tips below for how to protect yourself against this breach – and to protect yourself in the future.
Protection from Equifax
Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection (TrustedID Premier) for all affected customers. There was a misunderstanding that signing up for the plan meant you couldn’t join the class action suit against Equifax, but that was incorrect. There was, however, an arbitration clause for the TrustedID Premier plan. This means that if Equifax failed to protect you, you couldn’t sue them. This has been waived, so feel free to take advantage of this service. You can start the process here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/
Don’t trust the company that has an obviously shabby reputation for security? Then check out our tips and options below.
Hackers are using this breach as an opportunity to dupe people into signing up for bogus services so they can hijack your computer or steal personal information. NEVER click on an email link for any of these types of offers and if you’re contacted by phone, DO NOT give out any personal information. If you’re interested in any of these services, go directly to the website or find the company’s number and call them yourself.
Free Credit Check
There are hundreds of sites that offer free credit checks. Some are attempts to get you to sign up for their product but many are fake. Best to use the federal government’s free credit check report for a quick look at information currently being stored under your name. Start at USA.gov to find the link to the correct site: https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports. You will need to provide your social security information as well as other personally identifiable information, so make sure you do this on a secure computer/device/connection. There’s also a phone number you can call.
Unfortunately, you can only request this report once a year, so you’ll need additional protection going forward. But if you’re married and most of your financial services are held jointly, stagger your credit checks/don’t do them at the same time.
Credit Card and Bank Account Alerts
Most credit card companies and banks let you set up alerts for anything from size of withdrawals or charges to blocking charges from non-US companies. If you haven’t already, create an account for each of your credit/debit card companies and banks then review all alerts.
Also remember that credit card companies usually take care of unauthorized charges for you. Banks and debit cards generally do not. But check with the company to see what, if any, protection they do provide.
Drivers’ licenses, medical IDs (like Medicare and Medicaid) and even phone numbers are susceptible to fraudulent use as well. Your state or the company involved may offer alerts for some of these, but if not, you’ll need to monitor these yourself.
If you have accounts for any of these, check to see if they offer alerts. If not, make sure you carefully check billing summaries for medical accounts, any unfamiliar calls or purchases on your phone accounts or unknown traffic violations on your drivers’ license. Additionally, if a PIN is involved, change that often.
One way to protect yourself from unauthorized use of your financial information is to freeze your credit bureau account. A freeze means that no new accounts (credit card, utilities, phone, some subscription services, for example) or loans may be entered in your name. Those over 65 can freeze or “thaw” their account for free but for those under 65, there is a fee (varies by state) for each freeze or thaw. It usually takes 3 business days to complete a freeze or a thaw, so give yourself some time if you need to thaw your account for any reason.
Note that the freeze only prevents NEW account creation and does nothing to protect you against fraudulent activity on accounts you currently have. Plus, you have to freeze your account at all three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Use the phone numbers below. You’ll need to provide your social security number and other personal information and each will supply you with a PIN to make it easier to freeze/unfreeze accounts going forward.
At the very least, monitoring services alert you when a request is made for your financial information. But pick one that also scans the “dark web” for your social security number. Make sure they send immediate alerts, too, rather than weekly or monthly reports of suspicious activity.
If you want to cover family members, look for services that offer discounted family plans. Not only are these less expensive than individual plans but you’ll be able to manage everyone’s account in one place. Just remember that these are proactive services and that it’s up to you to notify appropriate parties about any breaches or misuse of your social security number. Also remember that all of these services have arbitration clauses stating that you cannot sue them if your identity is stolen.
Identity Theft Insurance
Many of the monitoring services also include or offer as an add-on insurance to cover the cost of resolving identity theft issues and reimbursement of some stolen funds. Don’t be fooled by those million dollar coverage claims. They will NOT cover that amount in lost funds. Check to see the actual amount you could be reimbursed, but it’s rarely more than $100,000.
In the case of true identity theft, this type of insurance can be very helpful. Pick one that guarantees that it handles EVERYTHING for you. Some make you go through too many hoops to resolve things. We’re going to recommend Zander Identity Theft’s plan since it’s recommended (and used) by Dave Ramsey. But feel free to check with friends and around the web for reviews from people who actually had to use the insurance for other good options.
Some homeowner’s insurance companies offer identity theft coverage. For $10 – $25 extra per year, it generally only covers out of pocket expenses you incur while trying to restore your identity. However, check with your insurance agent as some may be modernizing these offerings.