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8 Ways to protect yourself from ID theft and financial hacks
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!
25 Facts about the Equifax hack – and what you can do to protect yourself
1. Equifax – which is one of the country’s big three credit bureaus (along with TransUnion and Experian) recently suffered a significant data breach.
2. In fact, according to the company, the personal data and even some financial records for up to 143 million Americans has been compromised – which amounts to about half of the total U.S. adult population!
3. Equifax (EFX ) is a private company that’s traded on the New York Stock exchange with a mandate is to earn profits for its shareholders, which it did to the tune of over $3 billion in revenues in 2016.
4. Along with TransUnion and Experian, makes money by collecting your financial and demographic information, analyzing it in the form of a credit report, and then selling that data to lenders, banks, mortgage companies, auto dealers, credit card firms, and yes, even marketers.
5. However, although Equifax tracks the payment and credit statistics for nearly every American adult (a small number are what’s called “Credit Invisible”), they don’t seek our permission, nor is there a way to opt out or keep your data private.
6. Equifax’s negligent mishandling of the situation has been highly publicized. The timing, for one, is of grave concern. Reportedly, Equifax knew about the data breach as early as mid-May but didn’t announce the hack publically until July 29.
7. Industry reports point to the fact that the security breach in Equifax’s platform existed for nine years without being fixed, and hackers slowly siphoned off consumer information for months.
8. Signaling that some serious malfeasance took place, three high-level Equifax executives sold shares of their own holdings after the hack was discovered, but before it was made public.
9. These three inside-trading execs, including Equifax’s Chief Financial Officer John Gamble, made $1.8 million from the sales of Equifax stock – before stock prices fell upon news of the hack.
10. By cracking Equifax’s database, the cybercriminals were able to obtain consumer records including names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and driver’s license numbers – all of the information they need to open new accounts or commit identity fraud.
11. According to credit expert John Ulzheimer, those pieces of data are “the crown jewels of information for credit fraudsters.”
12. Since people’s names, social security numbers, birth dates, etc. never change, the information can be used to defraud and steal from consumers without a shelf life.
13. According to Equifax, the credit card numbers of at least 209,000 consumers were also lost in the hack.
14. Just as concerning, the compromised data may include user names, passwords, security questions and other login information for Internet websites and other financial accounts.
15. In the wake of the breach, two high-level Equifax employees stepped down this week, Chief Security Officer Susan Mauldin and Chief Information Officer, Dave Webb.
16. Shocked by the magnitude of the breach and the revelation that Equifax hid it from the American people, Equifax stock plummeted, falling from $142 per share to $92 as per the time of this writing.
17. Both the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission have initiated investigations into the hack, as well as possible Equifax impropriety. Additionally, the state attorney general of Massachusetts is suing the credit giant, and class action suits are also springing up by the day.
18. So what is Equifax doing to try and remedy the problem? The credit firm has set up a special website where consumers can log in and see if their data was included in the 143 million stolen by hackers.
19. However, you need to enter your last name and social security number to access their website – which is questionable considering the circumstances.
20. Equifax is also extending the offer of free credit monitoring service, called “TrustedID Premier,” for a year to those affected.
21. TrustedID Premier includes credit monitoring of Equifax, Experian and TransUnion credit reports, a credit freeze for Equifax accounts, identity theft insurance, and a monitor to see if someone is trying to sell your social security number on the internet.
22. This may sound sufficient, but critics argue that Equifax isn’t completely forthright about their help. For instance, once the year offer expires, the service is no longer free but costs $19.95 per month. (Consumers actually have to enter their credit card number just to enroll in Equifax’s “free” year-long monitoring service.)
23. It’s been slammed as a back-door way for Equifax to reduce their liability, too. Buried within the fine print when you sign up for TrustedID Premier was a release of liability, renouncing your rights to later sue Equifax or participate in any class action suit.
25. So what should you do now?
Don’t wait until your financial accounts are hacked or your identity stolen until you act. In fact, we can almost ensure that there are more big data hacks coming, since 65% of Fortune 100 companies still use that same processing framework (called Apache Struts) that was so easily hacked at Equifax.
The best thing to do is to be proactive, starting with checking your credit reports in detail (not just score).
From there, we recommend utilizing these tools to protect your identity and finances:
Whether you take advantage of Equifax’s offer or use a trusted third-party service, credit monitoring will keep tabs on your credit report for signs of fraud or impropriety.
Establish fraud alerts with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, as well as alerts for each of your credit and debit cards.
A credit freeze goes a step beyond fraud alerts in protecting you, which locks your credit files. No new accounts can be opened in your name without going through a security protocol, and only companies that you already commonly do business with will be able to make charges on your cards.
Change your passwords
It’s a good time to go through and change your passwords, for all Internet sites as well as banking, credit, and financial services. Make sure these are secure, not based on your address, birthday, name, or any personal information, and stored in a safe place.
In this extraordinary time of confusion and risk, we’re happy to provide you the information and tools you need to protect your credit – and your family’s financial future. Feel free to contact us anytime for a no-cost credit consultation.
Credit Card Best Practices
Whether you are opening your first credit card or need a refresher, these credit card best practices are essential to maintaining a healthy credit score. While you may think you have your credit cards under control, there may be a few items on this list that can help you to improve.
Here’s the Rundown..
Look For A Low Interest Rate: When you are on the market for a new credit card, be sure to check the interest rate and annual fee. Read the cardholder agreement! It will give you insight into all the fees you can be charged. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before opening a new card.
Don’t Spend More Than You Can Afford: Don’t buy a TV that costs as much as your credit limit, just because you can. Purchase what you can afford to pay off at the end of that month. This will enable you to avoid interest fees.
Pay On Time: Show lenders you’re reliable, pay your credit card on time! You don’t want to pay that late fee. Also, be sure to check when your payment is due each month, it can change from time to time
Pay Off As Much As You Can: At the very least pay the minimum balance. Pay off the entire balance whenever you can, to reduce the finance charges you pay. As a rule of thumb, pay off as much as you can to avoid high interest payments. When you do have to keep a balance on your credit card try to keep it below 30% or less.
Avoid Cash Advances: When you choose to do a cash advance, a fee and interest rate is typically part of the deal. Interest rates for cash advances tend to be much higher. Only do a cash advance if it is an emergency.
Stay Within Your Limit: Keep track of what you are purchasing each month. If you stay within your limit, you’ll avoid over limit fees. Keep your credit card balance below 70% of your limit at all times. This shows lenders that you have control over how much credit you use.
Use Your Credit Card Regularly: Use your credit card regularly with the mindset that you will pay it off at the end of the month. This will show lenders that you have a proven history with being able to handle your money responsibly.
If you have tried time and time again to put these steps into play in your daily life but can’t seem to get anywhere, there is help.
Don’t wait! Better Credit is just a click away! Call the experts at Nationwide Credit Clearing. “Home of the Free Credit Report and Consultation”
Nationwide Credit Clearing
2336 N. Damen
Chicago, IL 60647
Toll Free: 877-334-3296
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