The latest hack of information leaves many of us wondering, "What's next?", and what can I do NOW to protect my private information? Well, the answers aren't pretty. Equifax hasn't helped much, what with murky details trickling out bit by bit, and conflicting messages that leave most of us more confused than ever. So what can you do?
Well, first and foremost, get back to the old fashioned...monitor your accounts! I'm not suggesting you pull out the old check registers and start balancing, but if you're not already, check your accounts frequently (at least monthly) to ensure you don't see any odd transactions. That's just good sense. Just last month, we had a transaction show up from Dish Network, which neither of us has done business with. We called and disputed it, and are STILL waiting for it to be removed (might be time to look at a new bank).
Next, it's boring, but good advice--check those credit reports! I know, you've heard it a million times, but many banks make it easier these days by allowing you to view your report straight from online banking. Make sure you're not getting charged for this perk, however...you're entitled to get one credit report from each of the credit agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) per year, so go to annualcreditreports.com every 4 months and grab up a report. No, you won't get your score, but that's not necessary unless you plan to apply for credit any time soon (and the folks that you're getting credit from will do that for you). You're mostly looking for any new creditors (especially ones you don't recognize!).
Finally, credit freezes--should you do it? This is a tough one. I, for one, went ahead and placed the freeze for my family. Why? Well, the kids don't need credit (no-brainer), and I'm willing to deal with the inconvenience of thawing my credit temporarily when we're ready. Plus, did you know that if you live in certain states (North Carolina included), it's free to freeze and thaw your credit when needed? Yes, it's a pain, but unfortunately, I think this is our reality until Congress gets together and either changes the system , or stops using social security numbers for obtaining credit (not likely any time soon).
Unfortunately, even a freeze won't protect you entirely. Criminals can still use your SSN to file a tax return, obtain health care under your name, or use your private information to call any number of places and pretend to be you, to make transfers, etc. Think about it; how do most places you call verify your information? By using all the information that Equifax just leaked. Sigh....