Whether you’re very diligent online or just a little sloppy, your data and accounts are under cyber-attack. Afraid you’ll get snake-bit since data breaches at companies are so routine…and aren’t even your fault?
It’s nothing personal, you know. Scammers troll for anyone and everyone’s personal data, and they snag it by the gigabytes. Just recall the Equifax breach that made the news a year ago. You probably don’t even know if — or how — you were affected by that breach yet.
Freezing Credit Is Good Protection
One of the best ways to safeguard your data is to order a credit freeze from each credit bureau – and now it’s actually free to do that. This locks down your credit files, making them inaccessible until you give permission to unfreeze. The facts:
- The three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) cannot release or sell your data without your knowledge, neither to legitimate lenders nor fraudsters.
- Putting a freeze on your file does not affect your credit score.
- You can still apply for a new credit card or loan.
- You must unfreeze your files before a lender can see if you qualify to open a new line of credit.
- You can unfreeze and re-freeze your file.
To freeze your files, you must contact each credit bureau:
TransUnion – Call 888-909-8872
Experian – Call 888-397-3742
Equifax – Call 800-685-1111
Credit Freeze Vs. Credit Lock Service
A credit freeze is not the same as a credit lock or credit monitoring service. You’ve probably seen or heard ads for monitoring services, for which you pay a monthly fee and are alerted about suspicious activity. While you can restrict access to your files with either a freeze or a lock, experts consider a freeze to offer more legal protection.
When you initiate a freeze, you get a PIN (Personal Identification Number) should you want to unfreeze your file. So keep the PIN! (You can still unfreeze without it, but it’s more of a hassle.)
Use These 5 Tips to Protect Your Data
I had the opportunity to speak with the real Frank Abagnale, Jr., the con artist of Catch Me If You Can fame, who now works for the FBI. He’s one of the world’s most respected experts on forgery, embezzlement, fraud and identity theft.
So what does Abagnale do to keep his own data safe from fraud? You might want to try his five tips:
- He shreds everything. Abagnale specifically uses a “security micro-cut” shredder, so it’s virtually impossible to reassemble the shreds. (Simpler shreds can be re-assembled in minutes.)
- He doesn’t write many checks. “Too many others can see and use all that information printed on your check and even order new checks,” Abagnale said.
- He pays by credit card when he can, because his liability (by law) is $0 for reported fraud. Plus, his own money and account number are not at risk.
- He doesn’t have a debit card. “Young people rely too much on a debit card because it’s convenient,” but Abagnale advocates it’s an easy target. “Debit cards compromised at bank ATMS (on bank property) jumped 174% (in 2015), and attacks at non-bank locations are up 317%.” Breaches are increasing, and a hacker can takeover and/or withdraw your entire account with a debit card number.
- He uses a credit monitoring service. Though Equifax was “offering this free for a year, consider how negligent they’ve already been with your information and ask yourself if this is your best choice,” Abagnale cautioned.
October is Cyber Awareness Month, so make time to protect yourself, especially your online presence. The Federal Trade Commission and Homeland Security share tips to do that here.