Over the week-end I’ve been reading up on how to handle the credit agency breach. Identity theft overall is becoming more and more of a problem, so I don’t mean to diminish this breach as an issue, but I think this is a bit over-hyped. My experience with fraudulently filed tax returns – a form of identity theft – suggests that quite a lot of us – if not all of us – have already been hacked. The one at the State Department even got people’s fingerprints. A few years ago the entire Department of Revenue in South Carolina’s database was hacked, revealing data on all taxpayers or dependents. I know the licensing bureaus in MA were hacked, and I’m pretty sure the Medicare department has been hacked, based on the amount of fraudulent tax returns filed for people over 65.
So: what can you do?
Putting a freeze on new credit requests at the agencies is an interesting tactic that you may wish to try, but I didn’t bother. You can also request a fraud alert for ninety days, but I’m not sure that’s worth the bother, either. Basically, it’ll be equally painful to contest a credit charge as to prevent one, so personally I’m just waiting and watching.
Meanwhile, there are useful things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.
- One is to have a really secure password vault, and don’t re-use passwords between sites. (I use Lastpass.) Thieves get into one place and then try that password against other sites just in case it works. Have secure passwords for financial sites. I have a PIN on mine, too.
- Use two-factor identification where-ever you can. Typically this means they need to email or phone or text you to confirm that it’s really you. This helps enormously.
- Check to see if you can add a PIN to your cellphone to prevent phone hijacking (this is a new thing!) Here’s a more in-depth article on that. It won’t help to confirm it’s you if they have your phone number!
- I think it’s time to find credit cards that have PINs to go with their chips. I’ll be researching that myself. I’d like to hear if your credit card provider offers those, because my Chase cards don’t.
- Watch your credit report. Read more below on this.
Watching your credit report is easy and free.
You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus each year. You can access these online, but you may also order the free reports over the phone or by mail .
Watch out for the credit bureaus trying to upsell you a score that you don’t need! It’s the REPORT you want. The reports are so filled with data that they’re hard to read, but don’t get bogged down: just skim through to see if anything leaps out at you as obviously wrong. I can help you interpret it, but my experience is that you’ll notice any significant errors just by looking. For example, you’ll spot it if it says that you are six months late on a Citibank credit card and you don’t HAVE a Citibank credit card.
Start now by going here and choosing to get one from Equifax if you haven’t already recently. Save the report to PDF so we can go over it together, if you prefer.
Ask me if you want my write-up on this, including how to improve your score. We can talk about that in person if this is a concern. (See the “Contact Me” page.)