Nearly half of all Americans may have had their personal information- Social Security numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth- stolen in the massive Equifax data breach revealed last week.
Why should you be concerned about the Equifax data breach and identity theft?
Identity thieves may attempt to use your credit cards, access your accounts, or open new accounts or credit in your name. It can be hard to notice that you were a victim of identity theft until you review your reports or statements and see charges you didn’t make, or are contacted by a debt collector about a debt that you don’t recognize. Fraudulent activity may not happen immediately after a data breach and can happen months from now.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
- Set up free credit monitoring. Your credit cards may offer this service for free. If not, go to creditkarma.com to sign up for a free account and credit monitoring. You will receive an alert if there is any suspicious activity on your credit, and also see your credit score and get tips on how to improve it.
- Freeze your credit with all 3 credit bureaus.
What is a credit freeze?
It prevents criminals from accessing your credit report and opening new credit, loans or services in your name.
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Anywhere from free to $10 per credit bureau based on your resident state, so up to $30 total. Here is a list of states and their fees. This is a one time fee compared to paid credit monitoring which is ongoing monthly fees. Credit thaws also are free to $10 per credit bureau.
Who can see my credit report?
- You can see it and request a free annual credit report from each credit agency
- Your existing creditors can see it- credit cards, loans, etc. So when you request a credit limit increase, you do not have to thaw your credit.
- Government agencies with legal authority
What if I want to finance a new cell phone or rent an apartment?
Ask the creditor which credit bureau they need to access your credit report. You can then thaw your credit at just the requested credit bureau for a brief time period.
How do I setup a credit freeze?
Here is a walkthrough of how to freeze your credit at each of the three credit bureaus: