Protecting your credit is something that everyone wants to do, but not many people understand how to do it. There has been a growing trend of companies having private, sensitive customer information being hacked. For example, here are some hacked companies along with numbers of impacted customers I found for 2014 alone:
- Target – 70 million
- Neiman Marcus – 350,000
- Michaels – 2.6 million
- Yahoo! Mail – 273 million
- AT&T – Unknown
- eBay – 233 million
- Evernote – 100 million
- P.F. Chang’s – Unknown
- UPS – Unknown
- Home Depot – 56 million
- Google – 5 million
- Apple iCloud – Unknown
- Goodwill Industries – 868,000
- SuperValu – Unknown
- Bartell Hotels – 55,000
- J.P. Morgan Chase – 76 million
- Dairy Queen – Unknown
- Anthem – Estimated 8.8 million or more
With all of these massive breaches in a single year, it may be more apparent to you why protecting your credit is an important thing to consider. Here’s what you can do to safeguard yourself:
Use Different Passwords for Each Website
I can shout this until I’m blue in the face, but you’ve got to believe it for yourself. One of best things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is to use different passwords for each site. NEVER use the same password twice, and don’t use simple passwords or sequential passwords (password1, password2, etc.). If you don’t have the desire to remember 100 passwords, I would strongly recommend looking at a password management tool like LastPass. I use it personally and it’s worked flawlessly for me for years.
The problem with using the same password, or a similar password, or a simple password is that if one account gets hacked, they all can be hacked. If your account at your favorite sports blog (Blazersedge for me) is compromised, who cares? You don’t keep any personal information there, it won’t matter. But, if you use that same password at your bank, or your HSA, or your retirement account, or your brokerage account – it just became infinitely easier for a hacker to get into those accounts. Be proactive!
Check for Vulnerability
There are some free websites available that let you check whether you may be at risk. While these aren’t foolproof or all-encompassing, they are good tools to use to give you an idea of where you stand.
Using these sites, I was able to discover that I was part of a security breach when Adobe was hacked in 2013. Luckily, I habitually use different passwords for each site, so there was no harm done in my case.
Note: I tested each of these websites as part of research for this article, and have since begun receiving spam from BreachAlert. Beware the spam!
Enroll in Credit Monitoring Services
In response to the hacks that have occurred, many impacted companies have offered their customers free credit monitoring for 1-2 years. There are numerous credit monitoring services available. If you want to pursue some on your own, here are a few recommended options:
Credit Monitoring services watch your credit reports closely and notify you of any significant changes from the norm. This can allow you to know when an identity thief tries to open a new account with your information and respond quickly.
Freeze Your Credit Reports
The absolute best way to prevent identity theft is to freeze your credit reports with all three major credit reporting companies. This will prevent all companies from accessing your credit report, so that any identity thief attempting to open a new account with your information will be stopped before ever getting a chance.
All of your existing accounts will still work as normal when frozen, so you can operate as you normally do. If you want to open a new account, you can call the credit reporting companies to temporarily lift – or “thaw” – your reports by using a custom PIN to authenticate yourself. Once you’re confident you are no longer at risk, you can also completely remove the freeze.
Freezes can cost $0 – $10 based on state of residence and circumstance per credit reporting company (identity theft victims may be able to freeze, lift and remove for free, for example).
Here are the links to freeze your credit report each of the three major companies:
Nobody ever asked to have their identity stolen, but without taking sufficient measures to protect yourself, you’re doing just that. Take the time to make sure you’re protected so you can avoid the long, tiresome headache of identity theft.