Although Equifax has yet to reveal specifics about the individuals who were affected by their data breach, as many as 143 million Americans may have been impacted. With that in mind, anyone with credit should consider taking measures to protect their identity and funds. Many experts are suggesting individuals freeze their credit, but this may not be the most effective method. While freezing your credit is not a bad decision, it only protects you from new accounts being opened in your name, a form of identity theft that is actually quite rare.
While many taxpayers are now deeply concerned about their lives being destroyed from identity theft, there are many other ways to guard your identity and your money that may be more beneficial than freezing your credit:
- Use two-step verification and secure passwords
Most identity theft occurs on existing accounts, so making it difficult for hackers to access your accounts with financial information is one step you can take to safeguard your personal data.
- Choose ID-verification questions and answers cautiously
Consider choosing questions whose answers cannot be easily found online. Questions such as “Where were you born?” or “What was your high school mascot?” could be easily discovered by checking your social media accounts, so be wise when creating those protective measures.
- Monitor current accounts as often as possible
Ideally, you should check your bank accounts daily to ensure all posted charges were made by you or whoever has access to the account. Since most financial institutions today have an app for accessing account information, monitoring your credit can be as simple as a quick log on from your phone. If you notice suspicious activity, you can then notify your bank immediately to avoid racking up more false charges.
- Set up alerts for new credit activity
Although you can set up a fraud alert or credit freeze, there are other free services that monitor your credit and any new account openings or activity.
- Check credit reports regularly
Every individual is allowed one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com, a site sponsored by the government. You can receive all three reports at once, or request one every 4 months to space out your monitoring tactics.
- File taxes early
One form of fraudulent behavior that is becoming more common is filing for taxes under someone else’s SSN. But, organizing your tax information quickly and filing as early as possible could lower the chances that someone will file in your name. Plus, if you are owed a refund, you will likely get it sooner than April if you file early.
While none of these methods are entirely foolproof, taking precautionary steps to protect your credit are always advised. If you do fall victim to identity theft, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s step-by-step recovery guide for helpful information.