It’s been a few months, but we are still witnessing fallout from the historic Equifax breach. Equifax reported that almost 150 million Americans may have been affected by the breach, but the complete mishandling of information made it difficult for consumers to determine if their identity had been compromised. Honestly, the smartest move is to assume you have been compromised and look into the common strategies to protect yourself.
When announcing the breach, Equifax initially offered a free year of credit monitoring to consumers. This service was advertised as protection against identity theft, but really, it will only alert you after your identity is already stolen. While being aware of the danger as soon as possible is important, an identity thief can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. Credit monitoring can help consumers recover from identity theft, but it should not be your only line of defense when it comes to protecting your identity from being stolen.
A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, prevents creditors from being able to pull your credit file. After you file a credit freeze with the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and Trans Union — even if a thief has your information, they won’t be able to take out credit in your name. Few creditors will approve credit without checking the risk associated with your existing credit. A credit freeze will not impact current lines of credit, like debit or credit cards, and if you need to apply for a loan, you can temporarily thaw your credit to do so.
Check Your Credit Report
Despite how simple this process is, almost 50 percent of Americans aren’t checking their credit report. By law, three of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union — must provide consumers a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months. If you use the government-mandated site, annualcreditreport.com, to check your report with one of the bureaus every 120 days, you can remain constantly informed about your credit all year long.
Like with data security, there is no surefire way to completely protect your credit and identity from thieves. But with thorough planning and constant vigilance, you can be ready to act in the event of a worst-case scenario.