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  • Writer's pictureSteve Coker, CFP

Keeping your identity safe




Capital One, Home Depot, 7-Eleven, TJMaxx, Marshalls, and even the credit reporting site Equifax have one thing in common – all have been hacked, resulting in millions of customer Social Security numbers and other personal information exposed. Every time I hear one of these reports it is just another reminder to ‘keep watch’ over my credit as it is entirely likely that my private information is now in the open. Loaded with this data, criminals may be able to open credit cards or loans in your name without your knowledge. I don’t want to be fearful, but I do want to be smart.  Just like a lock my doors at night to keep my home safe, I’ve taken a few steps to help protect my identity.  Here are some practical steps that you can take right now to help make yourself more secure.


1. Credit Monitoring


Credit monitoring services such as LifeLock are excellent tools to monitor your credit for fraudulent activity. Essentially, these services watch for new accounts and send you alerts when new accounts are opened. If you don’t want to pay the fees, you can also review your credit yourself for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.  You are entitled to an annual free credit report detailing the credit activity under your social security number.  This report is more than just a score; it lists all of the accounts open in your name, and the activity in each.  Review the activity and look for accounts you don’t recognize.  If see something you don’t recognize, contact the credit agency immediately. Consider adding “check credit” to your tax return checklist. That way you will be sure to check it at least once a year.


2. Consider placing a ‘Credit Freeze’ on your files. 


If you know that your Social Security Number or other critical information has been compromised in a data hack, then you may want to place a “Credit Freeze”. A credit freeze is a tool that will restrict access to your credit report, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.  Admittedly, placing a credit freeze on your account can be a hassle since you will not be able to open new credit cards or loans without first temporarily unfreezing your credit, but this is a very effective tool to keep identity thieves from even getting started. 


To place a credit freeze on your account you will need to contact each of the credit reporting agencies:  Equifax, Experian and Transunion.  Essentially each reporting agency will send you a unique PIN that you will need to ‘unfreeze’ your credit each time you need a loan.  You can learn more about freezing your credit at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs


3. Place a ‘Fraud Alert’ on your files


If you don’t want to go as far as placing a credit freeze on your accounts, you can place a ‘fraud alert’ on your account.  A fraud alert makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in your name since it requires creditors to verify your identity before any accounts are opened.  Fraud alerts can be for 90 days or be extended for 7 years.  While I believe the ‘credit freeze’ offers more protection, a ‘fraud alert’ can at least make it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts.  You can learn more about placing a fraud alert on your account here:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0275-place-fraud-alert

 

By taking these prudent steps you can sleep better at night knowing that you are protected.  If you have any questions, please feel free to call any time.

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