There is not a single affiliate link anywhere in this post. These things are not money-making opportunities. They’re real.
On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the top three credit reporting agencies, announced a cybersecurity incident that could have impacted nearly 150 million Americans. If you haven’t already heard about this, you can read more from the FTC.
On September 7, 2017, I was sitting on the beach in Brasil eating queijo coalho on a stick. I added “Equifax Data Breach Things” to my to-do list in Todoist and focused on vacation.
Now, I’m home, settled, and I’ve handled my things. If you haven’t already, you should too.
Proactive v Reactive
When it comes to data breaches, you can do something or you can do nothing. In fact, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics (source), the majority of Americans will never experience identity theft either. In 2014, about 7% of Americans had their personal information stolen and used maliciously. While low, that number continues to climb and the more these data breaches happen, the more people are going to continue to be affected by it.
There are services out there that can help you monitor your credit for identity theft. Usually, you pay for these services and, if anything ever happens, they will help you address the situation. The top two services in this space that I know of are Lifelock and Zander Insurance’s Identity Theft Protection. I have never used any of these companies, have no experience with them at all, and do not endorse them.
In fact, I don’t think you should get identity theft insurance/monitoring at all. You see, these services are reactive. While, yes, they monitor your credit (something you can do for free), they don’t do anything until after your credit has been stolen. What if I told you that you could protect your identity from being stolen in the first place?
Well, you can.
A credit freeze “essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand” (source). In other words, with a credit freeze in place, you cannot be approved for new credit. No new credit card lines. No cars bought in your name. No. New. Credit.
Not just for the bad guys trying to steal your credit either. For you too. That means what Victoria Secret offers you 99% off if you sign up for their credit card, you will get rejected, even with a 750 credit score. Credit freezes can be temporarily thawed or permanently taken off at any point, though. (Some states actually require credit agencies to remove a credit freeze after a certain number of years, so please look up the policies for your state.) You’re not shutting down your credit for life.
So… what is credit monitoring?
It’s watching your credit.
You know what you can use to watch your credit?
Don’t pay someone to do something you can do for free. Personally, I use Credit Karma. I have notifications turned on. Every month when they update my credit score, I get a ping. I check it out. It all looks good. Done in less than five minutes. I’ll keep my $9.99/month, thank you very much.
Snarkiness aside, with a credit freeze in place, you can’t be approved for new lines of credit and, with an app like Credit Karma checking in on your every month, you’ll keep a pulse on already open lines of credit, like your credit cards which you’re not response for identity theft on.
- Download Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. I don’t care which you use, just download it and get set up ASAP.
- Contact each of the three credit bureaus and set up a credit freeze. I’ve made it super easy for you by including each of the three links below. It took me a total of 10 minutes to get them all done.
Saving Your Pin
When you set up a credit freeze, you will have to set up a Pin. This Pin is important should you choose to thaw your credit or remove your freeze at some point in the future. Store it in a safe place! I keep my Pin and all my passwords in the password manager that I personally use 1Password.
The Problem With The Promised Time-Bound Credit Monitoring
Oh Emilie, but I signed up for the 1 year of free credit monitoring from Equifax.
You know who else knows you’ve got one year of credit monitoring going on? THE IDENTITY THIEVES!
They will- sorry, let me say that again- THEY WILL JUST SIT ON YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION FOR A YEAR. You will have a year of credit monitoring and then say “nah, I’m not gonna pay for this” and then KAH-BOOM. You didn’t have a credit freeze in place, so little Johnny got a new credit card in your name and ran up $60,000 in expenses before running off to a wonderful beach island never to be seen again. Because you didn’t monitor your credit, you didn’t even notice the new credit cards and the missed payments in your name. You only found out from the collection calls and subsequent headache that you were left behind with. Johnny is on a beach, and you’re on the phone.
Okay, that’s a bit of a hyperbole but it really does happen to very real people. It’s hard and frustrating and, frankly, a pain in the ass to deal with. With thirty minute of work today, literally right now(!!), you can nip this in the bud.
Have you already set your credit freeze yet? Have I convinced you to do it?
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Emilie is an Army Wife, Data Engineer, and CrossFitter with a love for working through her thoughts in this space on the internet. She lives with her husband Casey and their pup Bo in Savannah, GA.