Identity theft and data breaches are becoming much more common and affect millions of people. The data breach of Capital One servers in March of 2019 exposed the personal information of about 106 million credit card customers and applicants. Capital One discovered the breach and notified affected customers. You may also recall the Equifax hack in 2017 that affected over 147 million people. Whether you’ve had your personal information exposed in a data breach or not, there are steps you can take to monitor and protect your identity.
- Monitor Your Credit
Enrolling in a credit monitoring service can help you keep a close watch on your accounts and will alert you if someone opens an unauthorized account in your name. If you have been a victim of a data breach, you have likely been signed up for free credit monitoring through one of the prominent credit reporting bureaus. You can also purchase credit monitoring through companies like LifeLock and Credit Karma.
Before signing up for any credit monitoring, you should verify which credit reporting bureau or bureaus are being used. It is still possible for identity theft to go undetected if, for example, you are only monitoring Experian, but the thief wants to get a car loan from a dealership that solely uses TransUnion.
- Use Smart Password Management
It is almost impossible to memorize all the passwords you use for the various sites you need to access on a daily basis, but you should never write down your passwords or use the same password for every website. Your passwords should be hard to guess and changed frequently. You may want to use a password manager such as LastPass to store all of your existing passwords and help you create strong, unique passwords for all of your various websites.
- Don’t Fall for Phishing
Phishing is when you receive unsolicited requests for information either via email or over the phone when the hacker pretends to be a trusted company or individual. The best thing you can do is ignore the email or phone call. If the person on the other line has something important to say, they will leave you a message. Scammers rarely leave voicemails. You can also report phishing emails to the Department of Homeland security’s Anti-Phishing Working Group by forwarding the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Freeze Your Credit
Security experts recommend going the extra step of freezing or locking your credit. Freezing your credit at the 3 credit-reporting bureaus is now free and can be done online or over the phone. To freeze your credit at the 3 credit-reporting bureaus, click the below links:
- Report Identity Theft
If you experience identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. By reporting the identity theft online, you will receive an identity theft report and a recovery plan. You can create an account on the website to update your recovery plan and get access to prefilled form letters to send to creditors. For more information go to https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft.
While taking the above steps will grant you added protection from identity theft, it is still important to remain vigilant in monitoring your accounts and ensure that your personal information is always protected by you and by the companies that you do business with.