Cyber Security Awareness: Take Control of Your Identity
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month; the annual campaign led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that seeks to raise awareness about the importance of cyber security for the general public. It’s a great opportunity to take action to protect your personal information, especially in light of recent news events.
As with most issues in life, the cost of preventing problems is a small fraction of the cost of repairing problems once they have occurred. Many consumers who have had their credit information stolen and have received offers of free credit monitoring may think this is enough to protect them from further harm. They would be wrong.
Credit monitoring only monitors your credit profile for changes, in affect alerting you to malicious activity after the activity has already occurred. In effect, this is no different than you monitoring your credit card statement for charges you did not make and alerting the bank to these issues. However, the damage in terms of theft has already occurred.
Far more dangerous for consumers is the threat of identity theft. When a thief steals your identity, as opposed to just your credit card information, they can make major purchases in your name, steal your tax refund and in general make your life miserable by committing crimes that eventually will be tied back to you, even though you had nothing to do with them. Untangling these issues can take years of effort, sometimes requiring the need to get a new social security number to differentiate yourself from the thief who has assumed your identity.
In order to proactively protect your identity, a better strategy would be to consider putting in place credit freezes at the four credit reporting agencies (CRA): Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion. With a credit (or security) freeze, the CRA will not provide your credit history when requested, making it nearly impossible for someone else to open new credit lines, leases, mortgages or other major purchases that require credit verification.
Depending on where you live and your situation, there may be costs associated with putting freezes in place and lifting them when you have the legitimate need to open new credit. However, as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”