The Equifax breach is disheartening. Why? Your credit history is a key financial chapter of your life. It’s your own financial diary; it tells the story of your relationships with all your financial creditors. Don’t leave it by the wayside. Don’t be surprised when you miss out on a job or loan. Be alert. Be proactive.
Here are 5+ things you should do now to keep your credit safe!
- Go to Equifax. First, determine if your information was affected by the breach by clicking the “Potential Impact” button. Secondly, whether or not your information may have been part of the breach, enroll in free credit monitoring from Equifax through their TrustedID Premier program. You will receive an email to activate the program. The email may not be immediate due to the volume of requests; therefore, keep checking your email and make sure you respond. You have until November 21, 2017, to enroll. Don’t wait until the last minute. Here’s a summary about the breach from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Request an initial 90-day fraud alert or active duty alert (for military personnel). Only good for 90 days, this lets creditors know that you may have been a victim of fraud and to do some extra due diligence when reviewing a credit application. You can file this alert with any of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian). Each company is responsible for notifying the other two. I think Equifax might be the easiest.
- Consider freezing your credit. Freezing your credit means that no new credit applications can be processed without your approval—usually with a Personal Identification Number (PIN). To do this, you will have to make a request to each of the three credit reporting agencies listed above and pay a small fee to each one. If you have been a recent victim of identity theft, the service is free. Does a freeze affect your credit in any way? No. The process merely stops new applications unless you unfreeze your report. If you’re about to file a credit application (e.g., apply for a mortgage) or open new bank accounts, don’t do this now.
- Monitor your credit report. Take the time to visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Pull your report from each of the three credit companies. Do it annually. Make sure everything is accurate. If it is not, dispute it. A creditor could have made a mistake and reported inaccurate information. Stay on top of this. Understand that you are responsible for the information in the report. This is your financial story, your biography. My recommendation: reward yourself by requesting your credit report on your birthday—it’s free! Also, check out Credit Karma for free credit monitoring and FICO scores, Nerdwallet for a list of credit cards that offer free FICO scores, and LifeLock, a paid service for monitoring options and assistance, if you become the victim of identity theft.
- File your taxes early. Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of fraudulent tax returns filed. Can you imagine filing your return and having the IRS tell you that they already received your return and sent out your tax refund? Don’t let this be you. File early. File electronically.
- Bonus: be diligent. There are currently more than 15 million American victims of identity theft. As a crime, it’s rampant. Check your bank checking and savings accounts. Additionally, check your credit and debit cards transactions. Use your phone, too—it’s both convenient and efficient.