It seems like a new data breach occurs every week, making us worry about the safety of our information. Restaurants, retailers (brick and mortar, and online), apps, and even airlines have all been targets of data breaches within the past year. In 2017, Equifax estimated that the data breach of their systems could have affected 145 million people. There were many questions after the breach, but the one that became most important for many people was, “What can I do now to protect my identity?”
A good start is to place an alert on your credit file. There are three different types of alerts that can help you monitor the safety of your identity. Each of them involve working with the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, or Experian) to monitor any attempts made to use your information.
The first is a fraud alert, which makes it difficult for someone to open an account in your name. This is typically used when someone finds out that their identity has been compromised. You would need to notify any of the credit bureaus (don’t worry, they notify the other two) that you would like to place an alert. The alert is free and lasts for 90 days. Then, if someone uses your information to try and get a credit card (for example), the credit card company will check with the credit bureau. The alert lets the company know that they should do some additional verification before giving the person the credit card.
The second is a credit freeze. With a freeze, no one will be able to access your credit report, which is required before opening a new line of credit. To set up a freeze, you will need to contact each of the three credit bureaus. You can unfreeze your account whenever you need to, but there is typically a fee attached to doing so. In Maryland, there is no fee to freeze your credit, but there is a $5 fee to unfreeze it, unless you are a victim of identify theft, in which case, it would be free. You will need to unfreeze your credit if you need a new loan or credit card, or if someone needs your credit report as part of a background check. You will receive a PIN any time you freeze or unfreeze an account.
Finally, there is a credit lock, which is similar to a credit freeze, but provides a little more convenience. A credit freeze requires a few steps to freeze or unfreeze your credit report. With a credit lock, you control whether or not your report is frozen from your smartphone and it does not require that you remember a PIN. This makes it easier to unlock your report when you need to do so. However, it requires you to work with the credit bureau, which can include a monthly fee.
This post was co-written by Carrie.