We’ve all been carefully watching the news as details of the Experian credit hack unfold, but one thing is for sure: no one is safe from the threat of identity theft.
In fact, according to data by the National Crime Victimization Survey/U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 7% of U.S. adults 16 or older have been victims of identity theft.
Shockingly, across the world last year alone, 4.2 billion personal records were stolen by hackers and data thieves!
So there’s a strong chance that you may have your data compromised at some time in your life, and 86% of identity theft victims suffer the fraudulent use of one of their current financial accounts like a credit card or bank account.
Surveys show that 85% of Americans have already taken steps to prevent identity theft, such as shredding financial documents or changing passwords. But now more than ever, it’s critical that you take you fortify yourself against identity thieves.
Is a credit freeze the answer?
Many media outlets and credit “experts” have been advising people to place a freeze on their credit report.
Credit freezes do offer some protection since lenders won’t be able to pull your credit report and new accounts can’t be opened in your name.
To request a freeze, you have to contact each of the credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, separately, and each one will have details, terms, and restrictions on their website.
While freezes will protect against new accounts being opened in your name, they don’t even prevent the most common type of identity theft these days: misuse of existing accounts. In fact, only 4% of identity theft victims have new accounts opened in their names according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data
So what other options do you have to keep your identity safe?
Get a copy of your credit reports
It’s important to start by carefully reviewing all three of your credit reports for errant accounts or suspicious activity. You can request a free copy of your credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian or contact MyNationwideCredit.com for a free report and consultation.
Check your financial accounts
You should also monitor each of your financial accounts, including all credit card and bank statements. Even tax refunds have been a growing target of fraudsters, so IRS records also need to be reviewed.
Set strong passwords
The first line of defense against internet fraud and identity theft is setting strong passwords. The average person now has dozens of passwords that they enter online, many of them for sites and accounts that hold sensitive financial information.
When setting passwords, avoid personal information like birthdates, addresses, and family names. Use nonsensical combinations of letters and include numbers and !*#. You should also avoid using the same password for every account, and be careful about user names and what other information you store in internet accounts.
Enroll in a credit monitoring service
To ramp up your protection against identity thieves, consider enrolling with a reputable credit monitoring service. A good service will track all activity on your credit report every day, notifying you if there are any changes, such as a hard inquiry used to open new accounts or erratic charges.
Alert the authorities immediately
If you see suspicious activity or that you’ve been the victim of identity theft or fraud, contact the authorities immediately. You can file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at identitytheft.gov.
The FTC also recommends that you file a report with your local police department if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
A fraud alert on your credit reports will raise the level of scrutiny and caution on your accounts if you suspect that you’ve been the victim of identity theft or even just a data hack. Creditors will need to contact you before opening any new credit lines or accounts. You only need to file a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus since they are required to instruct the other two bureaus to do the same.
There are two kinds of fraud alerts. An initial fraud alert requires that a lender call you or make “reasonable steps” to contact you and confirm the new activity is valid and will last 90 days.
Extended fraud alerts are available if you’ve been the victim of ID theft and have a police report to prove it. You can only file an extended fraud alert one time but it lasts for seven years, and it requires that a credit contact you to verify new activity.
Register a credit lock
On face value, credit locks and credit freezes offer similar benefits, including preventing someone else from opening a new account in your name. But there are also some huge advantages to credit locks that you should consider. (You can’t institute a credit freeze and a credit lock at the same time.) In fact, credit freezes offer additional levels of protection over freezes, and also cost less.
Unlike locks, credit freezes are guaranteed by state law, so you have a level of legal protection. And while freezes can take a little time and effort to activate and deactivate, locks are initiated using an app on your smartphone and can be produced or discontinued immediately.
(However, only TransUnion and Experian offer instant credit locks, with Experian’s TrustedID Premier lock system taking 24-48 hours to process).
Similarly, only two bureaus (this time, TransUnion and Equifax) offer free credit locks, so you’ll have to pay for Experian’s CreditWorks lock program. But it’s still probably worth it considering that Experian’s credit lock program also offers daily credit monitoring and alerts.
Do you have any questions about the Experian hack, how to monitor and safeguard your credit and protect from ID theft? Contact Nationwide Credit Clearing for a free credit report and consultation!