I’m getting many questions from fellow CyberSavvy Parents out there who want to know the best recourse for protecting yourself and your credit after the massive breach announced earlier this month by Equifax.
A quick explainer if you’re not familiar with the breach I am referring to:
Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, reported earlier this month that cybercriminals had gained access to the personal information of approximately 143 million consumers. The information included social security numbers, addresses and other personal information that can be used to create credit accounts in your name and can also be sold for profit on the black market.
The answer to “what now?” is not that easy. Some experts, like Terry Cutler, a security advisor who gets into suggestions in the video below, advise that you consider freezing your credit. Freezing your credit is just what it sounds like: it puts a freeze on any new lines of credit that can be opened with your social security number. You implement the freeze and you initiate the “unfreezing” of your credit as well with a personal identification number or other type of locking key/code that you establish when you initiate the freeze.
My issue with advising millions to freeze their credit is that this is not an easy on/off process and can be a headache, as explained in this article. Is it an option? Yes. But don’t think it is a “quick fix” to your personal, sensitive information hanging out there for criminals to use.
More importantly: monitor your credit report vigilantly. This was important before Equifax became headline news, and is now even more so. If you have minor-aged children (and I assume if you’re reading this site you likely do), then check on their social security numbers too, frequently, to ensure there is no credit taken out in their names. How do you do this? Unfortunately you need to take your inquiry back to the source of our headache: the credit reporting bureaus. In addition Equifax, credit bureaus TransUnion and Experian need to be contacted to get a complete picture of what you have out there for credit lines. All three bureaus also need to be contacted if you choose to freeze your credit.
I don’t promote specific products on this site, but there is the option of enrolling in a credit monitoring service for your entire family. Google search for some options and do your homework before signing on to any service. And, no, I don’t recommend the service Equifax offered for “free” after they announced their breach. That was a public relations disaster of epic proportions and another topic for another day.
For today, my advice is what is often is: stay aware, be vigilant. Keep on top of your credit accounts, bank accounts, loans, anything you have out there. And look out for new lines you didn’t open. That includes your kids’ credit too.
These are tough times and the bad guys seem often to remain one step ahead of us when it comes to trying to take our good name, credit and money for their own nefarious purposes. But be your own cyber warrior and be tough and aware. Your best defense is always knowledge.