As most of you are aware, Equifax recently announced that a data breach occurred in which as many as 143 million U.S consumers may have been affected. Given that the US population in 2016 totaled approximately 323 million people, it’s almost a flip of the coin that your personal data (such as your social security number, date of birth, address etc.) has been compromised.
The Equifax data breach, albeit a massive intrusion, is just one of many recent data breaches that have occurred over the past few years. Sadly, it is an important reminder to stay vigilant when it comes down to protecting your identity and your financial accounts.
Below are some recommendations and tips that you should consider in protecting yourself and the ones you care for.
- Review your Credit Reports: Reviewing your bank, brokerage, or credit card statements does not protect you against identity theft; it does, however, help protect you against fraudulent account activity. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three reporting agencies each year (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). The only website you should go to check your credit is www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t get caught in the trap of paying for a credit report. Also, stagger your report requests, so you receive your free report from one of the three agencies every four months; this will allow you to monitor your credit year-round.
- Freeze your Credit: For information on freezing your credit, take a look at the FAQs on the Federal Trade Commission’s website. Freezing your credit through will restrict the ability of new creditors to access your credit information, which in turn makes it more difficult for new accounts to be opened without your knowledge. You can temporarily lift the freeze and then put it back in place if/when you are actively seeking credit (or employment). While this measure protects you from possible new creditors it does not prevent current creditors from reviewing your credit report. This means that if you already have an account with a bank or credit card company, an identity thief could still be able to open an account with that company. Parents with children under the age of 18 should consider this option too, as the Federal Trade Commission has stated children under the age of 18 are popular targets!
- Two-Factor Identification: Many financial institutions now offer a 2nd level of security in order to sign onto their website. If enrolled in Two-Factor identification, you will receive a unique code (typically via a text message) once you correctly input your online credentials (username and password).
- Password Management: Never save your passwords or username to your computer, tablet, or smartphone. For some great insight into creating and managing passwords, take a look at our June 14th bog post titled “The Password Balancing Act.”
As the President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, Eva Velasquez, says, “There are two kinds of consumers — those who know they’ve been breached, and those who don’t.” Realize that the odds that your personal data is “out there” are high, and consider the tips above to protect yourself and your family (not to mention your wallet). And remember, this is an ongoing battle. Staying informed will help reduce the odds that ID thieves are successful. Be diligent, and keep vigilant!