I hope that after the news of the Equifax data breach, you’re being extra smart about taking steps to monitor your credit reports. You can always get one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus at annualcreditreports.com.
Checking once and breathing a sigh of relief is not enough. You must continually monitor your personal financial accounts. Identity thieves are smart. They don’t always strike right after they have stolen your info. Sometimes they will wait months or years before striking, assuming your guard will be down.
You can also put a 90-day fraud Alert on your credit files at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. And then write yourself a note to renew every three months. But even with fraud alert you can’t relax. Take advantage of the email and text alerts all credit card issuers and other financial businesses offer clients as a way to monitor their accounts for free. There’s no faster way to spot I.D. theft than to get an alert for a purchase you didn’t make!
I also want you to be extra cautious in responding to emails from financial firms, or people you are doing business with, that ask for any personal information, or request you pay a bill.
The sad fact is that scammers have gotten very good at sending emails that look like they are legitimate correspondence from someone you are doing business with. As CNBC recently reported, someone buying a house received what looked like a legitimate email with wiring instructions for her down payment. But it was in fact a scam. A scam that almost cost her the house!
The best defense is to be very, very careful. Whenever you receive an email that asks for personal identification – Social Security number, bank routing number – do not respond to that email. Confirm it is legit, by calling the requestor; don’t call any number listed in that email. Go to the website of the business, or check the number in your phone’s contact list. Or if you prefer email, the same rule applies: don’t hit “reply” to the email. Log on to the firm’s website and send a secure note via the customer service link.
I realize this is an extra step. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain. But you and I both know it’s not nearly the pain you would feel if you were bilked out of money or unwittingly shared valuable personal information with an identity thief.