Of the many high-profile data breaches that have occurred recently, one of the latest happened in January at the University of Central Florida when a hacker gained access to more than 60,000 Social Security numbers of current and former students and administrators.
Identity theft is a scary prospect—for good reason. The financial and personal toll it can exact on anyone is significant. That’s why knowing beforehand what actions to take if your identity is at risk – and then taking those steps immediately – could mean a world of difference in mitigating the damage early on. The following are some key actions you should take as soon as you learn of a potential data breach.
Place a Fraud Alert
Contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus and request to place a fraud alert on any names wherein personal information has been compromised. A fraud alert is free and lasts for 90 days. There is no need to place an alert with each bureau; the three bureaus share fraud alerts with each other.
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285 / equifax.com
- Experian 1-888-397-3742 / experian.com
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289 /transunion.com
Issuing a fraud alert will make it more difficult for you – or potentially someone posing as you – to secure credit under your name, since the credit bureau will now have to verify your identity before credit is granted. A fraud alert is not the same as freezing your credit. Someone can still access your credit report with a fraud alert in place if you so authorize.
Secure Your Free Credit Reports
By law, you are permitted to secure one copy of your credit report for free from each of the three credit reporting bureaus once every 12 months (their phone numbers and website addresses are above). You should secure a copy now and do so going forward on an annual basis. If you note any transaction that is not yours, report it immediately to the credit reporting bureau.
Credit Monitoring Services
Another option to consider, if this option hasn’t already been provided to you for free by the agency that was responsible for the data breach, is to utilize a credit monitoring service. A credit monitoring service can place a fraud alert on your account, as well place a freeze on your credit. A credit monitoring service will usually send you an email alerting you that credit is being extended in your name, or that someone has inquired as to your credit. Credit monitoring services charge based on the frequency of notification—the more frequent notification, the higher the cost.
Place a Credit Freeze on Your Account
It is easy and relatively inexpensive to freeze your credit. Fees associated with initiating a credit freeze vary by state. In Florida, placing a “freeze” on your account, if you have not been an identity theft victim, will cost $10 per account per credit reporting bureau. If you have been an identity theft victim and have filed a police report, these services are free. To “thaw” your account (i.e., remove the freeze) will also cost you $10 per transaction per credit reporting bureau.
To freeze or thaw an account, all you need to do is contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus. A freeze will last until you remove it. If you need to thaw your credit in order to give someone access to it, remember that there is a $10 fee to thaw the account, and then a $10 fee to re-freeze it for each credit reporting bureau.