Protecting Your Credit

It is a story we unfortunately hear too often – a bank or financial institution was hacked and our personal information may have been breached. What can you do if your information has been breached, and what can you do to protect yourself in the future?

Run your credit report

You are entitled to a free credit report each year. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and request your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review each report to make sure there are no fraudulent accounts open in your name. If you have any questions there are links to report a dispute to the credit agency.

Place a Fraud Alert if you suspect any fraud

A fraud alert is a red flag placed on your credit report alerting credit card companies that you may have been the victim of fraud. This notice puts creditors on notice that they should take extra steps to verify your identity if any accounts are requested in your name.

Subscribe to a credit monitoring service

Credit monitoring services keep a watch on your credit reports and will alert you when there are any changes. Many financial institutions offer free credit monitoring if you have an account with them, so be sure to take advantage of this free service if available. Make sure you understand what accounts and what credit agencies will be monitored. Even with this added protection you will still need to be vigilant to protect yourself. Last year my husband was the victim of identity theft. We had a credit monitoring service that alerted us after the account was opened in his name, and we realized that the fraudulent account was only listed on his credit report at one of the three major credit reporting agencies. It was something that could have easily been missed for any one of these reasons.

Request a credit freeze to lock down your credit

A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report making it more difficult for someone to open an account using your information. More details are available on the FTC Consumer Information site linked here. While the process may seem like a hassle most of it can be processed online, and imagine the hassle it could be if you identity was stolen.
Please also consider assisting your parents and any elderly family members to freeze their credit as the elderly population is at an increased risk for scammers. There is also an option to freeze your minor child’s credit. I know this may seem extreme, but with no credit history until your child applies for their first loan it would be awful to find out that their identity has been compromised. If you do freeze your child’s credit please be sure to keep the PIN numbers from each credit agency in a safe, secure place as the numbers will be needed to unfreeze the credit at a point in the future.