By now you’ve heard the frightening news that almost half of the population of the United States (approximately 143 million people) may have had their Social Security number along with other personal information (birth dates, addresses, etc.) stolen sometime between May and July of this year. British and Canadian customers may have also been affected, but the exact number has not yet been released, concerning many as to how this will affect their credit score.
According to a Global News article on September 08th, the hack had exposed the sensitive information of an “unknown” number of people from these other two countries. To check if your information has been impacted, you can go to a special website Equifax has set up (Forbes recommends checking on a private computer over a secure internet connection) or you can call 1-866-447-7559.
So what can you do if you’re worried that your information has been stolen or know that it has been, and want to prevent identity thieves from using it to open up credit in the future?
Tools to Monitor Your Credit
First off, Equifax is offering all of its customers a free year of enrollment in TrustedID, which is an identity theft protection and credit file monitoring program. Interested consumers need to go to Equifax Security Site and sign up for the complimentary service by November 21, 2017. Understandably, many of those affected by this unprecedented hack feel that this offer is inadequate.
According to The New York Times, this free program only protects your information if thieves apply for credit with a lender that uses Equifax to pull credit reports; if thieves go to a lender that uses Experian or TransUnion, you’re totally unprotected. For this reason, Forbes suggests that consumers should get free annual credit check reports and enroll themselves into several credit score services, in order to achieve an enhanced level of identity protection.
Consumerism Commentary has compiled a list of ways to get your credit report for free, and here are three of our favourite options:
- Lending Tree
Lending Tree, like most other free credit report websites, only provides you with information held at one credit bureau. Lending Tree is only able to access to your TransUnion credit report, but has other features that you may find useful. You can view any derogatory remarks on your credit report and get specific tips on the ways in which you can improve your credit score.
- Credit Karma
Credit Karma is quite popular and has the ability to provide you with a free credit report from both the Equifax and TransUnion credit bureaus. Credit Karma is also able to show you credit report details, including any derogatory remarks on your credit and your current credit card balances.
- Credit Sesame
Credit Sesame is only able to show you your TransUnion credit report for free, but you can get access to three bureau reports for $15.95USD/month. You can also get some additional credit monitoring by paying $19.95USD/month. Have a look at the plans they offer:
Since it’s 2017 and we’re all obsessed with our smartphones, many of these credit reporting and monitoring websites have created apps to help protect your identity; Lending Tree, Credit Karma and Credit Sesame all have apps. It may be worthwhile to download one of these since many of us put sensitive information and shop on our phones. Tech.co has suggested that Identity Guard and Life Lock are some other useful Android apps to protect yourself from thieves looking to use your credit.
There are several other things you can do to protect yourself if you think your sensitive information has been compromised:
Dark Web Scan
Experian explains that the dark web is a “hidden network of websites.” Those who use this network use anonymity software so that “a computer takes a randomized path to its file destination, bouncing around a number of encrypted connections to ultimately mask both location and identity.” So the dark web is likely the place where criminals will sell your personal information to the highest bidder. Experian offers a free dark web scan that can be accessed here.
The New York Times recommends that you set up fraud alerts with the three leading credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, so you can be alerted when someone tries to use your information to apply for credit. There will likely be a cost for this, but it could prevent serious headaches in the long run.
Another useful suggestion made by The New York Times is that you consider freezing your credit. By freezing it, you can prevent companies that don’t already have you as a customer from being able to retrieve your credit report. Again, it’s not free, but it’s worth it to protect yourself.
Hopefully your credit has not been compromised, but whether it has or hasn’t, there are definitely ways you can protect your sensitive financial information from being used unlawfully.