Editor’s note: This page has been updated after news of a security breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit rating services, impacting millions of Americans. – also a recent reference to a useful article/site reviewing services.
Not long ago I wrote on the very real dangers of identity theft and ways to avoid it. Though there are measures one can take to protect themselves, oftentimes security breeches are unavoidable — like when your information is held by an outside entity that’s compromised. But if your information falls into the wrong hands there are steps you can take to mitigate the problem. The most critical part is to be aware it’s happening.
Take advantage of credit monitoring — you may already have a free service through your employer — or get your free credit report available online at www.annualcreditreport.com(a free, accredited site). Examine your report often, I do weekly, even if you are not notified of a breach or irregular activity you can often file a dispute of something that appears incorrect on your credit file. An example would be if an invalid credit collections agency shows up, say, from a fraudulent purchase or account, and damages your credit rating. Your credit rating plays and important roll in your ability to get quality loans, mortgages, etc, and can certainly suffer if not monitored closely.
If you notice erroneous entries on your credit report, see worrying account activity or know your identity has been compromised, it’s important to file a fraud alert, or ask to freeze your credit. (Terminology varies between credit companies as well as what you’re able to report and how long you want your credit inaccessible.) Notify Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, the three major credit monitoring companies, if you fall victim to fraud. An initial alert will last about 90 days and you may renew it for 90 days before it expires. Basically, you have two options on locking your credit file such as a credit freeze that keeps everyone out of your files, typically for seven years — you’ll have to remove the freeze if someone needs access to your credit. A basic temporary alert allows companies can do a credit check with your help/approval.
Typically, a bank account and/or a credit card that’s been opened under your name indicates that your Social Security number is being used by someone other than you. First some bad news: if your social security number has been stolen there’s not much that can be done to reclaim it. You can get a new Social Security number but it’ll still be loosely tied to your old number. A shrewd thief can track your new number down and take it again. You can still go about getting a new number via the IRS, but be prepared for a slow process.
Needless to say, having you identity stolen is nothing short of a nightmare, and what you don’t know will hurt you. Diligent monitoring of your credit reports and knowing when to freeze your accounts will go a long way in helping you mitigate the situation.
There are services that claim to be able to fix your problems, supposedly, like CSID, Triple Alert, and ID Experts. While each manages monitoring your credit files and provide alerts to changes and additions just fine, the ability to request and make fixes, and customer service when looking to do so leaves much to be desired. If/when you’re aware of a problem, you’ll need to take the follow up process upon yourself until a better service comes along.
Credit monitoring and account freezes won’t keep your identity safe if you’ve been compromised online, but it will make things more tedious for credit thieves. Good luck and keep your credit information close to your heart.
UPDATE: Equifax, one of the three main credit rating and protection providing companies has suffered a major hack. As many as half of all the population of the United State will be affected.
First, find out if you’re information has been compromised here. If so, then sign up for their free monitoring included on that page and follow the reports as often as possible — hackers wait for people to become complacent.
UPDATE 6/6/2018 – by Brian Koch
First I’d like to apologize to my readers due to my absence as of late. Life has been getting in the way of life- I am sure many of you understand that silly statement. I shall keep those details private for now.
Importantly- I wanted to weigh in on the below comment received from Lauren at www.reviews.com and her article (https://www.reviews.com/credit-report/) which is relevant to my articles about credit concerns.
I took some time to research www.reviews.com as I was not aware this is actually a somewhat new company. I was surprised they were able to obtain that domain name- I have not looked into previous owners/squatters, etc. I do not doubt it took some work and investment to obtain it. I like what I see from this company and it appears they have strong direction and a clear vision of providing honest reviews. Though I’ve not read a consensus of their reviews, I have looked into this company’s beginnings and what they want to provide- honest reviews without the influence of companies trying to buy preferential treatment and advertising. I sincerely hope that www.reviews.com will continue that business model and proves beneficial for their company and our readers.
Specifically, I have read through Lauren’s article regarding identity theft/credit scoring companies. I found it to be in depth and I like the style and approach used. It is a worthy read even if you are not in need at this time of such services. There are definitely pluses to be had using a worthy company to assist with protection and improving credit scores. It’s a dangerous world out there sadly. I still keep my ear to the ground as hackers and such still try to cause harm. No matter how careful one may be- you are still at the mercy of others such as our government, businesses, etc. that have not secured our online information.
Personally- I am utterly frustrated that three companies more or less are our credit overlords. I believe that is a flawed approach to handing out critical numbers tied to us that can make and break important moments in our lives. I am still floored that a provider and decision maker of our personal value, Equifax, was even hacked. I encourage people to rely less on credit ratings and simply build their personal wealth. If you can pay with cash- do so. I love to build up my fly miles and benefits using credit cards that I unequivocally pay off in whole every month. Yet- I do find times that the small rewards may not be worth the risk of your personal information being shared and there for unscrupulous miscreants to cause harm to you.
So I shared my rant once again and ultimately digressed from what I wanted to make mention to my loyal readers. I do think, at this time, not only is Lauren’s article (https://www.reviews.com/credit-report/) is a great read for those interested in a service but also that www.reviews.com could very well be a useful tool in the box for those looking for feedback on other services/products one may be considering to invest in.
Thanks Lauren for reaching out and I look forward to using www.reviews.com as another resource for unbiased reviews. I have in no way benefited by giving my personal “thumbs up” to their business model and article. I simply did some research and a bit of reading to come to this current observation.
Good luck to all! Stay alert- be careful out there in this danger place we call the cyber world.
Brian Koch is an avid techie who’s worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 18 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.