In recent weeks, the public learned that the sensitive, private data of 143 million Americans (about half the US population) was left vulnerable to hackers by Equifax, one of the three main credit bureaus. This is one of the largest breaches in history, and you have every right to be concerned. If you’re wondering what steps you can take to protect yourself, take heart. Our guide will show you what to do.
Check Those Credit Reports – All of Them
You’re entitled to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – get them here. Check these right away (yes, all three of them), and review them carefully for accounts you don’t recognize, late payments you don’t remember, or any other odd activity. If something fishy does appear, call the company that issued the account immediately. You won’t be responsible for any fraudulent charges, but you’re required to report them as soon as possible.
Sign Up for a Fraud Monitoring Service
Companies like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame will monitor your credit activity for you and alert you of any unusual happenings. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion also offer services of this nature, although Equifax’s service is so overloaded right now that confirmation emails are coming in days after the fact, and sometimes not at all. Makes sure you choose a service that monitors your credit on across all three bureaus because there can be discrepancies between them. Full identity protection from a company like LifeLock is an option as well if you are interested in a more thorough approach.
Set Up an Initial Fraud Alert
Fraud alerts add an extra layer of protection to your credit. When someone (even you) wants to open a new account in your name, they’ll be required to verify your identity. This can slow the time it takes for you to open a new account, but the upside is you’ll know if a fraudster is attempting to wrongfully use your information. To set up a 90-day alert that you can then renew, simply call one of the three credit bureaus or visit their websites. The process is usually automated, free, and can be completed fairly quickly. Remember, you only need to set up the alert with one bureau. They are required by law to tell the other two.
Freeze Your Credit
A final and more dramatic step you can consider is to totally freeze your credit for a while. This will halt all new credit activity and require anyone seeking to open a new account to provide a PIN to temporarily unfreeze the credit. Each credit bureau has their own process for this, so you’ll need to call all three to thoroughly protect yourself. Keep your PIN for each bureau in a safe place and prepare to need it if you do want to open a new account. Credit bureaus usually charge a nominal fee for this service, although Equifax is currently offering it for free in the aftermath of the breach.
Better Safe Than Sorry
If all this seems like a lot of work, consider how much more work it would be to dispute fraudulent accounts and charges after the fact. You’ve worked hard to build good credit, now take pains to protect it. It should be noted that many of the services described above are experiencing long delays, technical glitches, and other problems due to overwhelming volume. Keep trying and don’t give up – this is important stuff we’re talking about!
If you’re a business owner who’s concerned about the potential implications of this hack on your business, give us a call at 1-855-360-0360 or drop us a line on our website. We’d be glad to talk you through it.
PS – Now’s a great time to review your company’s security procedures for online credit card use.
PPS – While we’re at it, let’s learn more about employee fraud.