How To Help Protect Your Identity In 3 (Relatively) Easy Steps
It seems there is a long list of massive data breaches we’ve seen over the years. Readers of this blog know that I use CreditKarma to monitor my credit scores for free. However, in 2017 I decided it was time to up my defensive game and place a security freeze on accounts with the three credit reporting companies. Here is how I did it.
- Get Free Credit Reports: I went to annualcreditreport.com to get my free reports from all three credit companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You’re allowed one free report each year from each of the companies. I hadn't received my reports for the year, so I was able to generate and download all three. (This is something that I do about once a year, and I highly recommend that you do, too.) Review each report for accuracy and notify them of any errors. The only errors I noticed on mine were incorrect/old phone numbers and the name of a prior employer.
- Freeze Your Credit Reports: If you don’t foresee the need to apply for credit, a new job, or move to a new rental unit in the near future, go ahead and freeze your credit reports. Here is a link to a good description of the pros and cons of freezing your credit reports. After getting married in 2016 I changed my name, refinanced my home, and pared down my outstanding credit cards, but since I didn’t expect any other changes I felt comfortable with the freeze. Each freeze only took about 5-10 minutes. Since 2018 it is now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit. (Here is the link to the FTC's website explaining the law.) I now have a PIN from each, which I’ll need if/when I ever want to remove the freeze. I grumbled a bit at the time involved in freezing and unfreezing my accounts, but I know that it’s a drop in the bucket to the headache of dealing with identify theft.
- Equifax – https://www.freeze.equifax.com
- Experian - https://www.experian.com/freeze
- TransUnion - https://freeze.transunion.com
- Sign Up At CreditKarma or WalletHub: This will allow you to get regular updates of your credit scores with TransUnion or Equifax, so you can monitor any drastic changes—changes that could be an indication of identity theft.
Bankrate.com recently wrote an article that you may find useful if/when you chose to unfreeze your credit. Here's the link to "How to thaw a credit freeze".
I think that I’m like most people in this digital age who feel like if the bad guys want my data bad enough, there’s nothing I can do to stop them. However, I don’t have to make their job easy! Spending an hour checking on my credit data and creating security freezes is a small price to pay to make the criminals work a little harder.
Also, if you're as fed-up as I am with solicitations in the mail for new credit cards, you'll be as thrilled with finding the website www.optoutprescreen.com as I was. It only took me a minute to opt out of receiving these annoying offers for new credit.