By now, most of us have learned of the unprecedented data breach reported by the credit bureau Equifax on September 7th. According to Equifax, personal private information for more than 143 million customers may have been compromised, affecting one in three Americans.
The Federal Trade Commission has posted a valuable blog post entitled The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do, which we recommend you review.
Regardless, this event also presents an opportunity to review a handful of best practices to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft and/or credit card fraud:
- Passwords: Be sure to create and frequently update strong passwords for use online. Birth dates, children’s names, pet’s names, maiden names etc… are all easily identifiable. Consider including one or more capital letters, one or more numbers, and one or more special characters in your password. You should ensure the password your personal email (when did you last update this password?) and other sites that do not require updates contain a strong password.
- Inventory: Maintain an inventory of all open loans, credit cards and bank accounts with each institutions’ contact number offline (ideally in a safe, safe deposit box or other secure location).
- Annual credit report: Annually, you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Be sure to review all three reports and compare them against your loan and credit card inventory to ensure both are current, and to identify and resolve any errors. You may request the reports online.
- Mail: To the extent you are comfortable with technology, it is best to elect to receive most financial statements electronically rather than via postal service. If you notice irregularities with your mail delivery, contact the US Postal Inspection Service online or by dialing 877-876-2455.
- Read your statements: Last and certainly not least, open and review your statements upon receipt. Surprisingly, most individuals do not consistently review all of their statements on a monthly basis. This is often the easiest, most effective, and most timely manner to identify and resolve issues with as little financial loss as possible.
These best practices are not fail safe, but should help you prevent the most common challenges. If you are unfortunate to suspect your identity has been stolen, after contacting your local police department you should review the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website to take the necessary steps to contain the damage and repair it as soon as possible. Additionally, contact the IRS’s Identity Protection Unit by dialing 800-908-4490.