If you haven’t heard, Equifax, one of the U.S.’s three main credit agencies was hacked.
Here’s what we know so far:
- The hack affected 143 Americans (basically anyone with a credit report)
- Hackers had access to names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers
- Hackers stole around 209,000 credit card numbers as well
- Plus, personal and dispute documents from 182,000 cases
In other words, this is a big deal.
As I had a credit report on file with Equifax, my data was compromised. There’s still a lot to sort out from the hack. What concerns me is a hacker could do anything from applying for credit under my name to filing my taxes.
If you haven’t already, the first step you want to take is to go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ and click on the potential impact tab. You then enter your name and last 6 digits of your social security number to learn if you were impacted.
Equifax is offering then one-year of their credit monitoring service for free. I chose to sign up for the service. But, it’s important to realize what this service actually offers. This doesn’t prevent identity theft. Equifax’s credit monitoring service’s main function is to alert you soon after suspicious activity has taken place.
It’s important to take matters into your own hands. There are many ways your identity can be stolen. So, there isn’t one sure-fire way to prevent a theft from occurring in your own life.
However, there are ways to reduce your chances of having your identity stolen. Here’s 10 ways to prevent identity theft.
10 Ways To Prevent Identity Theft
# 1 – Get Alerts Of Credit Changes
Equifax’s credit monitoring service alerts you of any changes to your credit report. This benefit can help if your identity ever gets stolen, as you want to take action fast.
However, they’re only pulling data from your EquiFax credit report. It’s a smart idea to signup for another credit monitoring service that provides instant alerts.
I’ve used Credit Sesame‘s free credit monitoring service now for years and recommend them. Credit Sesame pulls data from your TransUnion report, so now you’ll have instant alerts from both EquiFax and TransUnion.
# 2 – Keep A Close Eye On Transactions
It’s important to maintain a close eye on transactions across all your accounts. You want to take action right away if any fraudulent transactions do take place.
An easy way to do this is using a finance tracking app, which allows you to aggregate your accounts and see each of your transactions. I use and recommend Personal Capital, as I enjoy their free net worth tracker and financial tools. Another good free finance tracking app is Mint.
# 3 – Regularly Check Your Credit Report
Put in your calendar to order a copy of your free credit report once every four months.
The credit reporting agencies are required to provide this report to you free of charge each year. (There’s three agencies, so once every 4 months will allow you to check once each year).
The site you want to use is AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the site setup by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
# 4 – Reduce Junk Mail
You can and should reduce any pre-approved offers, sent via postal mail. These are the offers from insurance and credit companies you qualify for based on your credit.
You have two choices when it comes to limiting junk mail.
- Use OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT. This is a service setup by the major credit reporting agencies. Choose to eliminate any pre-approved offers for credit and insurance. This will opt-you-out for 5 years.
- If you wish to permanently eliminate any pre-approved offers, use the Permanent Opt-Out Election form provided by OptOutPreScreen.com.
# 5 – Freeze Your Credit
Now is a good time to consider freezing your credit. Freezing your credit will make it diffcult (but not impossible) to secure any new credit under you name. (This can be a great way to control your credit card spending as well).
When you freeze your credit, you’ll get a Personal Identification Number (PIN) from each agency which you can use to “unfreeze” your credit.
# 6 – Secure Your Wireless Devices
Beyond physical mail, hackers also try to steal your e-mail or other data that’s stored electronically.
# 7 – Practice Safe Computer Habits
There are many ways hackers can gain access to your electronic devices. Basic computer safety can help prevent viruses or malware from being installed on your computers.
# 8 – Wipe Clean Old Electronic Devices
Before you throw away any electronic devices, make sure they’re properly wiped clean of any data.
# 9 – Shred Any Personal Documents
If you haven’t already, get a paper shredder (less than $30 on Amazon) and get in the habit of shredding personal documents.
# 10 – Place An Extended Fraud Alert
If you’re concerned of having your identity stolen but don’t want the hassle of a credit freeze, one of the best ways to prevent identity theft is to place an extended fraud alert on your file.
This will place a “red flag” on your credit which alerts potential lenders to ask for more information
An extended fraud alert is available to anyone who has filed an Identity Theft Report.