Protecting Your Family from Identity Theft
Reports of data breaches are common news. Already this month, data breaches have been announced by Panera Bread, Under Armour (their popular MyFitnessPal app), Saks, and Lord & Taylor! And remember in 2012 when 3.6 million social security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit cards numbers were hacked from the state’s Department of Revenue? Oh, how soon we forget!
For many of us, we understand the importance of protecting our identity and our children’s. We even have it on our to-do list, but if you are like me, things like this can end up at the bottom. Let’s be honest… when you hear about data breaches so often, it loses the shock value that should move us to swift action.
I recently got it in gear and took some steps to ensure my family is protected. This is what I did:
1. Federal law requires each of the three major credit reporting agencies to give you a free credit report. BUT YOU HAVE TO REQUEST IT. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only authorized website for free credit reports. You get one free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can request all three at once or you can spread out your requests to pull one every 4 months to ensure you are monitoring your credit throughout the year. I pulled a report from all three agencies and then made a recurring calendar reminder so I can remember to check the reports each year.
2. Experts also recommend that you check whether your child has a credit report close to their 16th birthday. If it has errors due to fraud or misuse, you should have time to correct it before they apply for their first job, need to rent an apartment, or apply for a college or car loan.
What if you have younger children? My kids are 9 and 8. I found out that I could not access reports for them online prior to age 13. To determine if they had a credit report, I had to mail in a separate request to each credit reporting company. Each request required that I provide a copy of my child’s birth certificate, SS card, and a copy of my driver’s license! I decided that this goes against the recommendations of protecting our information and would unnecessarily put us at risk, so I decided to wait until they are 16 to investigate their credit. (My wife, however, will probably check them out online when they turn 13, because she’d rather find out sooner than later if there’s a problem.) If you want to check your kids’ credit online, you can do it at the same website where you check yours: www.annualcreditreport.com.
3. Finally, I investigated LifeLock, which is a company designed to help protect your identity. On their website they say, “LifeLock uses proprietary technology that searches for potential threats to your identity. If we see activity using your personal information, we alert you. If it’s not you, we go to work on your behalf. And if you’re ever victimized by identity theft (learn more about what identity theft is), a member of our U.S.-Based Identity Restoration Team will be dedicated to your case.” After doing some additional research, I purchased the “LifeLock Advantage Plan” for my wife and me.
The sign-up process was fairly simple and so far it’s working great. For example, my wife has a MyFitnessPal account, and since they had a data breach including password information, she was at risk. She wasn’t concerned about a hacker getting her fitness data, but we were concerned about them getting her password and using it to get into other accounts (she often uses the same password for many accounts). But because she got an email from LifeLock, she was able to quickly change her password on that account, as well as others where she had used that same password.
There are many resources available to help educate you on these topics, but I’ll sum it up for you. Most experts advise we follow these steps to safeguard our information:
1. Shred your documents. Don’t toss bank statements and credit card receipts in the trash. Dispose of them using a cross-cut shredder or shredding service.
2. Strengthen your passwords. Use random combinations of letters, numbers and special characters. Create different passwords for each account and change them frequently.
3. Check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Request one report every four months and review it for suspicious or incorrect information.
4. Guard your Social Security number. Avoid sharing it when it’s not absolutely necessary, and don’t keep it, or your Social Security card, in your wallet.
5. Be smart about social media. Consider leaving personal details, such as your birthday or address, off your profiles. Strengthen your privacy settings and be cautious about whom you accept as a connection.
6. Secure your phone. Lock your device with a password, turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it, and be cautious when downloading apps — especially free versions of popular apps, which may contain malware.
7. Know the signs of phishing. Watch out for emails, links or unsolicited phone calls, asking for your personal information.
8. Monitor your financial statements. Report any suspicious activity in your bank and credit card accounts as soon as you notice it.
Here are some other resources that I found helpful:
If you’ve ever known someone who has had their identity stolen, then you know how disruptive and frustrating it can be. Protect yourself and your family today by being proactive… it’s much easier than having to be reactive once the crisis hits.