The security breach at Equifax and their subsequent response(s) have been alarming and disappointing. Over 143M Americans – nearly half the US population – were impacted.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Credit Freeze (or Security Freeze) & Monitoring Services
The Credit Freeze is the strongest way to go to reduce the probability of identity theft. It can be a hassle if you are applying for future credit (for example, mortgage/HELOC, new job, car loan etc). You have to pay a fee to unfreeze/freeze and you have to remember PIN numbers. In California, the fee is $10 per credit freeze or credit unfreeze. By law, a credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request.
You would do Credit Freeze with all three credit reporting companies.
Equifax 1-800-349-9960 https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
Experian 1-888-397-3742 https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
TransUnion 1-888-909-8872 https://www.transunion.com/
Personally, I have done the Credit Freeze. If you don't mind the hassle of having to unfreeze this is the most effective way to go. The key is not losing the three separate PIN numbers for each of the three credit bureaus. (Note: the credit bureaus also don't like when you do a Credit Freeze because it reduces the services they can provide to their subscribers).
Most banks now have low cost or free monitoring services and notify you if your credit score changes/credit reports etc. You can get this free with USAA through Experian. This is not as effective as the Credit Freeze and is more like looking in the rear view mirror. Credit monitoring can also be much more costly if you want additional "protection" features.
The effectiveness of credit monitoring is debatable. Here is an interesting article from Consumer Reports....it's a few years old, but still pertinent.
Annual Credit Report Cycle
Another method, is that you can take advantage of the free credit reporting service we are all entitled to each year under federal law. You can visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action to get your annual free credit reports from each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies. You get one free report every 12 months per agency. Get one now from one agency. Another in 4 months from a second. The last one 4 months after that from the third agency.
Repeat the above cycle in order every 12 months so that you can monitor your credit status throughout the year. You can also send the report every to us for review. We have some clients that do this and we review the report every four months.
Finally, checking your account statements regularly to catch suspicious activity early and carefully safeguarding your sensitive financial information. This includes always using ShareFile to share information with us and never attaching sensitive information to e-mails. Also, having a good password vault (we use LastPass and Trend Micro) to secure passwords.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.