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Updated September, 2018 to reflect a change in federal law the requires security freezes be provided free of charge.

 

What’s the saying? If you aren’t concerned, you haven’t been paying attention.

For many people, securing their personal information has become a major concern. Think Target Stores, Home Depot, Yahoo, JP Morgan Chase. The Equifax data breach affecting some 143 million people is only one example.

Such large-scale data breaches only confirm the fact that information truly is power. It’s power for scammers and identity thieves who steal personal information, but it’s also power for you to protect yourself.

Establish Alerts with Your Bank and Financial Institution

Many banks and other financial institutions allow you to create alerts that inform you of suspicious activity. Learn your options for triggering this important information.

Review Your Credit Reports

Credit reports are another important source of information. They are statements that detail your credit activity and the current condition of your credit. As such, credit reports provide the information lenders and potential lenders use when making credit decisions and establishing interest rates. They’re also the basis for calculating your credit score. That means ensuring their accuracy is vital.

By law and upon request, you’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major (nationwide) credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can get all three at no charge from the website AnnualCreditReport.com.

When you receive your credit reports, review your personal information and credit information carefully for accuracy, checking for both incorrect and missing information. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website includes more information on what to look for in your credit report.

Services for Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection

Many companies offer credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.

The Federal Trade Commission explains these services, including detailed descriptions and questions to ask, on their website’s Consumer Information page. As an additional source of information, the Consumer’s Advocate website has published its 10 Best Identity Theft Protection of 2018.

Request a Fraud Alert

Consider requesting a free fraud alert with any one of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They share fraud alerts, so more than one is not necessary.

A fraud alert doesn’t preclude access to your credit report, but it does require the credit reporting bureau to verify your identity first. Typically, a fraud alert automatically expires after 90 days — longer for certain victims of identity theft.

Freeze Access to Your Credit

You might also consider placing a security freeze on your credit file. A freeze is intended to prevent scammers and identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Unlike a fraud alert, a freeze actually precludes lenders, potential lenders and, depending on state law, others like landlords and employers from accessing your credit report.

The three major credit reporting bureaus do not share freeze requests, so you must request a freeze from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. As of September 21, 2018 federal law requires that such freezes be provided free of charge.

 

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SEE ALSO Whaling? The Latest Cybersecurity Threat and How to Protect Your Business

 

 

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