If you’ve been watching the news and are horrified, like I am, about all these data breaches – most recently Equifax’s hack exposing data of over 140 million Americans; you may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself. I’ve been looking into it for myself and thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned:
How do I know if my personal data has been hacked? News reports on the Equifax breach alone have revealed that just about every adult American’s info was vulnerable to this most recent hack, so it’s probably safe to say that your information has been breached. So, I’d recommend that instead of spending time and money trying to find out if your information was compromised, just assume that it has been and move on to steps to prevent it from being used.
What’s the most important step to take first? It’s most important now to check your credit reports to see if any suspicious activity has shown up. As a service to you, I can run your credit reports for you, just give me a call or shoot me an email. If you would like to do it yourself, you can visit www.annualcreditreport.com and get them for free once a year from each of the three credit bureaus. Examine them carefully and report any suspicious accounts or activity to the creditor and the credit agency right away.
Whew! My credit’s clean, should I freeze my credit? You may have been hearing lots about credit freezes and wondering whether you should freeze yours too. It’s a good idea, if you’re not planning on making any major purchases using credit, such as a mortgage or a car loan or lease in the near future. Please hear me on this, do not freeze your credit now if you are planning or in the process of getting a mortgage or refinance! Freezing your credit takes a little time because you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus, fill out their forms, and there’s usually a small fee associated with it (depending on what state you reside in). And yes, you can have a credit freeze lifted, for example, if you decide to get a mortgage in the future. You’ll just need to plan ahead a little to request it be lifted. There’s a helpful Q&A on credit freezes at: this link.
What else do I need to know to protect my identity? Keep in mind that a credit freeze doesn’t protect you from identity theft. It will protect you from someone opening a credit account using your personal information; however, it will not prevent someone from using your data to steal your identity. Only identity theft protection can help stop it. Many of today’s identity theft protection providers will keep tabs on your social security number, driver’s license number, credit cards, and any other personal data you give them to monitor. Also, make sure your provider offers recovery services so if your identity is stolen they will work to recover your identity for you.
So, these are the steps I’m taking to prevent my identity and credit from being stolen. I’m not a credit expert by any means, although I do regularly work with my clients to help them build and maintain good credit so they can get the best mortgage terms. I hope this advice might help you and prevent you from being a victim. Let me know if you have any other ways we can protect ourselves in light of these frequent data breaches.
P.S. As a mortgage broker, my passion is helping you find the loan program that best suits you and your family. Contact me today, I’m here to help walk you through the entire home buying or refinancing experience!