Months after Equifax’s major data breach left 145 million consumer’s personal information compromised, the threat of identity theft is still present. Information accessed in the breach included names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and (in some cases) driver’s license and credit card numbers. With this personal information vulnerable, millions of Americans are still at risk.
Contrary to popular belief, not all criminals immediately utilize the personal information they’ve stolen. It can take months, even years, to see criminal activity. While victims like Katie Van Fleet discovered within two months of the breach that criminals had opened 15 accounts in her name – ranging from bills at Home Depot to a hotel stay in Las Vegas – data criminals who already have personal information like names and social security numbers can choose to utilize it at any time.
How Can I Protect Myself?
There are a couple of things you can do to protect your identity if you were affected by the Equifax data breach. You can choose to freeze your credit or utilize credit monitoring, but both processes have pros and cons.
- Credit Freezes
This method enables you to restrict outside access to your credit report, and will stop a consumer reporting agency from releasing your credit report without your consent. Banks and lenders rely on credit reports to insure you’re a minimal credit risk. If they’re unable to access your report, it makes it extremely difficult for identity thieves to open up an account in your name.
While a credit freeze will not affect your credit score, the downside is that it will be an extra step you’ll be responsible for when you want to open up a new account or apply for an apartment or rental home. Want to finally get that Target RedCard? With a freeze on your credit in place, you’ll have to call the three credit bureaus and temporarily lift the freeze with enough time for them to run your credit check. Although many states enacted legislation that prohibits the bureaus for charging for credit freezes, many of these bills are temporary and expire in the next few months. This means you’ll likely pay around $10 every time you lift a freeze.
Quick Tip: If you need to temporarily lift the freeze, find out what credit bureau your employer, bank, or landlord is pulling from to avoid racking up unnecessary fees.
- Credit Monitoring
Credit monitoring allows you to periodically review your credit report (from all three bureaus) for accuracy and changes that could indicate your identity is stolen. Credit monitoring services will notify you if there’s any suspicious activity in your accounts, and anytime a new account has been opened in your name. On the plus side, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring to those who are impacted. If you’re skeptical of using Equifax to monitor your credit, we recommend using Identity Guard.
The down-side to credit monitoring is that you’ll have to pay for it monthly, and if you’re not planning on opening up any new accounts for the next year, it can be difficult to justify paying roughly $16 a month.
Quick Tip: In addition to these two methods, remember to take advantage of your free annual credit report.
With security standards changing quickly (the most notable being the transition to chip cards), take the time to look into your personal information security options. Credit card companies American Express, Discover, and Mastercard have already stated that they will stop requiring customers to provide a signature starting in April of 2018. According to MarketWatch, 75% of Visa transactions already don’t require a signature and Visa has not announced similar prerogatives at this time. As security standards begin to change, make it a priority in 2018 to stay up to date, and protected. The Equifax security breach will continue to affect consumers for years to come.
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