I received a notice from my health insurance company that someone hacked their system and my identity, including my social security number, was compromised. At this point, it seems as if I’m always receiving a notice from someone that my credit has been compromised and I don’t skip a beat on my standard response.
I Check My Credit Report Regularly
This should be a no brainer. You should be looking at your credit report no less than once each quarter to ensure it’s accurate. I look at mine every other week. Yes, I’m aware that is excessive. I can view my credit report through my bank as often as I like for free online. When I’m balancing my budget, I hop on to take a look. I know Chase and Bank of America offer this service but I’m sure there are others as well. Oh, and before you knock me for banking at a large bank (deservedly so), I used to bank at a local bank in the small town I grew up. That bank was sold to Great Western which was then sold to Washington Mutual, which was then sold to Chase. I should have changed banks forever ago but I’ve had the same account number for 23 years and I like it. I’m terrible at change management.
I Place a Fraud Alert with a Credit Reporting Agency
Equifax describes this as, ‘A fraud alert encourages lenders and creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before issuing credit.’ If you place a fraud alert at one of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or Trans Union), they will ensure the fraud alert gets to the others. No need to initiate a fraud alert at all three. A fraud alert actually worked for me once. I received a call from T-Mobile asking if I was purchasing cell phones. I happily said, ‘No, and please chase that person down to arrest them.’ I have a feeling that didn’t happen but I can dream right?
The bad news is, fraud alerts expire after 1 year (unless you file a police report because your identity was actually used and in that case, it’s 7 years). Frankly I don’t understand why I can’t permanently turn it on but I set a reminder every year to turn it on again. It used to expire after 3 months so they’re getting better.
And if Necessary…FREEZE Credit
If you want to drop an atom bomb, place a freeze. Per Trans Union, “A credit freeze prevents lenders from checking your credit in order to open a new account. Think of it as having a padlock on your credit report.” I’ve never done this before because it’s a hassle to turn on and off. You have to contact all three credit agencies to place a freeze and contact all three again to unfreeze it. You may be saying, ‘But you don’t use credit so who cares!!’ You’d be surprised at all the stupid places that pull your credit. Want to change cell phone providers? They’re going to pull your credit. Move to a new apartment? Yup, them too. Put an electric bill in your name? They’ll need it. Stay at a campground longer than 3 weeks? We do this sometimes and yup, they want your credit, even if you pay in advance.
This time, I dropped the atom bomb to try it out. I turned on a freeze. We just switched cell phone providers and I don’t have any moves (except Texas?) or long term camping in my future so I’m hoping it’s not going to turn into a nightmare but I’ll let you know.
Maybe Sign Up for Credit Monitoring?
Ugh. I cringe when I say that. I’m NOT a fan of credit monitoring for two reasons. 1) I’m better at monitoring my credit than they are. 2) I’ve had a credit monitoring company when my credit was compromised about 10 years ago. They say they’ll help you clean up the mess the criminals made. Here’s what they don’t tell you, they can’t do it alone. You will need to be on the phone with them when they call wherever your credit was used to answer questions about your credit they can’t answer. Don’t assume this will be hands free. If I have to do it anyway, why on earth should I pay someone else?
That said, I did do it this time…mainly because it was free through my health insurer who lost my information. Credit monitoring has changed in the 10 years since I’ve had it. They do provide interesting information about where your information is and how it’s moving on the ‘dark web’ but other than that, I’m not super impressed. BUT, my kids credit was compromised as well (thanks a whole heck of a lot health insurance company!) including their social security numbers and that’s harder for me to monitor so it’s helpful in that case. Well… until the credit monitoring agency loses their info. Come on, we all know that will eventually happen.
Ugh. What a mess friends. What a mess. I hate that we have to be so vigilant but that’s the world we live in. Good luck!