Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

Cybercrime activity is escalating and shows no sign of slowing down. That’s a fact of life in the early 21st century.  Information stolen from computer systems is used by cyber criminals in a variety of ways, but one of the most common scenarios is to open credit cards or bank accounts on behalf of a person whose information was stolen. Information such as driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, previous addresses and phone numbers, credit history, and other personally identifiable information (PII) that we may have provided to organizations that we trust. This is commonly called Identity Theft. Once the information is stolen, it can’t be reclaimed or recovered and is subject to being sold over and over again to those with criminal intent.

Since we have no control over the security processes that “trusted” organizations use to protect the data that we’ve shared with them, we must act as if our data could be stolen, and take proactive measures to protect ourselves. This year alone (2015), from early January to late October, there have been well over 100 data breaches affecting over 153,000,000 records. Total records stolen since 2005 is over 889M.  Many of these data breach victims are at risk of identity theft of one form or another. A credit freeze is one action that we can take to help protect ourselves.

Experts agree, that whether your personal information has been stolen or not, your best protection against someone opening new credit accounts in your name is the security freeze (also known as the credit freeze), not the often-offered, under-achieving credit monitoring. The best course of action for most consumers is to place security freezes with the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Once this has been done, most banks and credit card companies will be unable to pull a credit report if someone applies for credit in your name. If they cannot pull the report, the request will be denied.  On the downside, when you want to obtain new credit, to purchase a car or house for example, you will need to take action to un-freeze your reports before applying for credit.

The process to request a freeze or unfreeze is not complicated, but does require time and some money. For several providers there is nominal fee to freeze and unfreeze your credit report accounts.  For example, Equifax charges $10 to freeze your report. There is also the cost of time. I’ll estimate a one to two hour investment to put the freeze in place, then more time when you want to unfreeze and refreeze your reports.  But in the end, it could save hundreds of hours of pain and disruption if your credit is stolen. If you ask around, it won’t take long to find a friend or relative that has been a victim of identity theft and has first-hand knowledge of the pain it causes.

It is important to note that neither credit monitoring nor a security freeze can detect or prevent unauthorized use of your existing credit accounts, tax refund fraud, medical fraud, or reputational or physical harm, by thieves. A security freeze prevents identity theft on new accounts, such as credit cards, loans, and bank accounts.

To get complete details of the What, the Why and the How to Freeze your Credit Reports, click this link: Once you’ve read it, I strongly urge you to take action… then spread the word to others that you care about!

PS: Waiting until your identity has been stolen is too late!  Based on historical data breaches, we typically don’t know about them until 3-9 months after the data breach occurred. Taking action now to freeze your credit report accounts will provide a level of protection before the bad guys try to capitalize on the stolen data.

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