Scared? Here's what you need to do, now.
It also seems that there's no one action we can take that will guarantee us protection from whatever it is that lurks outside our door.
But here's the good news. By layering lots different security measures on top of each other, we can make it a whole lot harder for thieves to harm us. Yes its a pain, its time consuming, its more to do when our lives are already teeming with to do's. Equifax rots. There, we all agree. Now let's get to cleaning up and moving on.
Here are seven steps you should take today to protect yourself from identity theft.
1.Check your credit report.
Each year you are entitled to a free credit report from each credit bureau, and there are four credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis. So check your credit report from one of them now, and then again from a different bureau every three months. This gives you a year of reports for free, each year.
Get your free report here.
2.Place a freeze on your file at all four bureaus.
Contact each of the above named credit bureaus and place a freeze on your account to stop thieves from opening new lines of credit in your name. But be prepared, this process requires you to create a pin and you’ll need that pin when you want to temporarily lift the freezes whenever your credit needs to be checked. Do this the old fashioned way and keep a notebook with your pins, stored in a safe place. Also, expect to pay around $5 or so every time you place or lift a freeze, for every bureau. Again, Equifax rots.
3.Place a freeze on your file at ChexSystems.
ChexSystems is a nationwide specialty consumer reporting agency. They supply information about consumers checking and savings accounts. To stop thieves from opening checking and savings accounts in your name, place a freeze on your file at ChexSystems.
Go to CheckSystems here.
4.Change your Usernames and Passwords.
If you've been using the same username and password for a while, here’s why this is important. Frequently, identity thieves don’t come to the front door. They sneak in the back door, by hacking into a company’s database server. They go straight to the “User” table of that database, where all the usernames and passwords are stored, and grab those names. Then they either use them or sell them on the dark web for someone to use later. Companies are supposed to “encrypt” those names, so that when someone hacks in they can’t read the tables. But encryption is relatively new, and comapnies don't always use it. So if you’ve been using your fabulous-super-stong-totally-unhackable user name and password for a few years, its possible that thieves may have swiped it before a database became encrypted. It could be just a matter of time before they come a knockin’, with your username and password in-hand. I’m sure they’ll comment to their friends about what a great password it is as they’re using it to login to your account.
Make your new passwords stronger by increasing the character length, and avoiding 'dictionary words.' Be sure to add variations of capitalization, punctuation, numbers and letters. Never use your personal identifying information on accounts, like your name, birth dates or phone numbers. Also, don’t re-use passwords. Keep one unique password for each account.
5.Consider Adding Two Factor Authentication to frequently used websites.
When you try to login to your bank account online, does your bank call you with a security code to enter before it let's you in? That’s called Two Factor Authentication, and products like Symantec’s “VIP Access” allow you to add that layer of security protection to all of your logins.
To check out VIP Access click here.
6.Opt-out of pre-screened credit and insurance offers delivered by the post office.
It might sound extreme, but identity thieves will look in your mailbox and dig through your trash to find opportunities to steal your identity. Keep your junk mail to a minimum by opting out of pre-approved credit offers, and insurance offers, so your trash does not become their treasure!
Click here to opt-out for 5 years or permanently.
7.Consider using a credit monitoring service.
Honestly, I’m not convinced that these services do what they say they will. Equifax gets a no confidence vote right off the bat, and third-party monitoring companies like LifeLock boast compelling coverage in infomercials, but the pages of exclusions to this coverage on their website's Legal notice leave me less than comforted.
However, the fact remains that at the end of the day, identity theft is a nightmare. Its a mess to clean up, and a stressful, time consuming problem. Adding a layer of protection that alerts you to a potential theft can help you avoid this unpleasant experience, and getting help to deal with the problem, if it happens to you, might just be worth the $120 price of admission.