In light of the recent data breach at Equifax, we would like to share with you some of the information we have gathered to help protect yourself and your family from credit and identity theft. The decision of which lines of defense to take in preventing identity theft is a personal one, and will depend on your individual situation. There is no one right action to take. We’ve divided the lines of defense into two categories – preventive and detective. Preventive measures are designed to prevent credit and identity theft from occurring, whereas detective measures will inform you after the theft/fraud has happened. The lines of defense listed below are not an exhaustive list of precautions you can take. Visit www.usa.gov/identity-theft for other helpful tips and information on preventing various types of identity theft.
- Credit Freeze: This is considered the most extreme, but likely the most effective, measure to prevent identity thieves from opening a new credit card or other line of credit on your credit file. Note that a credit freeze does not protect your existing accounts from fraudulent activity. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit history, without which most creditors won’t open a new account. A credit freeze does not impact your credit score. The downsides to a credit freeze are primarily cost and inconvenience. It may cost up to $20 to both “freeze” and “unfreeze” your credit, depending on the state and the credit bureau. You must freeze your credit with each of the credit bureaus individually. In addition, unfreezing your credit when you need it is not instantaneous, and could take up to a few days. It also requires that you remember or have access to the pin that was established when you originally froze your credit.
- 90 Day Fraud Alert: This free service warns lenders that you may have been a victim of fraud, and asks them to take extra precautions, such as contacting you, before granting a new line of credit in your name. This initial alert lasts for only 90 days. If you sign up for this free service with any of the 3 primary credit bureaus, they will automatically notify the other credit bureaus. Should you become a victim of fraud, with evidence such as a police report, you can request a seven year fraud alert be placed on your credit file. A fraud alert does not impact your credit score.
- Opt-out of Pre-approved Credit Card offers: One way to reduce the chances of an identity thief from opening a new credit card in your name (and to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive), is to “opt-out” of the list that credit bureaus provide to credit card and insurance businesses. Visit optoutprescreen.com and follow the instructions if you would like to take this preventive measure and be permanently removed from these mailing lists. This precaution does not impact your credit score.
- Protect your Passwords: Another preventive measure you can take is to protect your passwords to all accounts in order to prevent thieves from making fraudulent transactions on your existing accounts. Use a secure password manager app on your mobile phone or your desktop/laptop computer, or save your passwords in a password-protected Excel spreadsheet. A few popular password manager apps that use cloud technology include LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password. Other apps such as KeePass, RoboForm and Password Safe use your harddrive for securely storing your password data.
- Monitor your Credit Reports: On an annual basis, request your free credit report from each of the four credit bureaus to review for any unexpected activity such as new credit cards or other lines of credit opened in your name that were not authorized by you. This detective measure will make you aware of fraud after it has occurred, although not necessarily in a timely manner, depending on the timing of your report monitoring.
- Subscribe to a Credit Monitoring Service: The credit bureaus offer monitoring services that will notify you as soon as any changes have occurred on your credit file. Credit monitoring will not prevent you from being targeted by identity thieves, but it can help mitigate the damage by being notified of the fraud in a timely manner.
- Experian CreditWorks: $24.99 per month (checks your Experian, TransUnion and Equifax credit reports each day, and notifies you when key changes are detected).
- TransUnion: $19.99 per month
- Equifax TrustedID Premier: Free for the first year of service.
- Monitor your credit card/bank statements: An easy detective measure is to get in the habit of regularly monitoring transactions on your credit and bank statements, such as your debit and credit cards, and checking and savings, for unexpected or suspicious activity. This exercise could be two-fold, as you can also track your level of personal spending, an exercise that we recommend most clients do as part of their financial planning.
If you would like to contact us regarding this topic, or set up a meeting with your financial planner, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,
Your Team at Goddard Financial Planning
603 Financial, Inc. dba Goddard Financial Planning
1200 Westlake Avenue North / Suite #603
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 217 – 2583