Should I Get Identity Theft Protection?
In the face of the recent data breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, everyone faces a similar question: should I get identity protection? Although the OPM incident mainly deals with Federal Employees and their information, everyone should be aware of a constant cyber security threat. For example, in May, Penn State University’s Department of Engineering revealed that over 18,000 usernames and passwords were compromised over a 2-year period. Early in 2014, the University of Maryland apologized for a data breach that compromised the names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers of over 300,000 students, staff, and faculty dating back to 1998.
Long story short, data breaches happen more frequently than you may think, and we live in an age that is very reliant on technology. Most of your information is out there somewhere and, unfortunately, you are constantly at risk.
Enough Scary Stuff. What Can You Do?
It’s hard to know what to do when you hear about a data hack and compromised information. If your information is stolen, an apology from the company just isn’t going to do much. But one thing you can do is get identity protection from a professional.
Identity protection is offered by several institutions and companies. There are a few different types of identity protection that are available:
- Credit Monitoring: With this service, the company keeps an eye on your accounts constantly. It looks for differences in your credit reports and flags potential signs of theft. You are also entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus, so it’s helpful to take advantage of that as well and do some credit monitoring of your own.
- Credit Freeze: With a credit freeze, no new accounts can be opened, and no one can access your credit report. The downside of a credit freeze is that it also applies to you, so you won’t be able to open a new account or see your credit report while the freeze is active. The upside? Neither can anybody else.
- Fraud alert: The fraud alert is similar to a credit freeze, except that with a fraud alert, businesses have to check with you before a new account is opened. If it’s you, that’s no problem. If it’s someone else, you can stop it.
Some other things you can do:
Identity protection is not the only thing you can do to keep your information safe. There are some precautions and basic things you can do to make sure your identity doesn’t end up where it shouldn’t.
- Change your passwords regularly. Don’t keep a password for too long. If you can’t remember the last time you changed your password for anything, it may be a good idea to change it now. Don’t base your passwords off of actual words, making them easier for a potential hacker or program to figure out. A secure password should be a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, and should be about 8-15 characters long. Password generators like LastPass can be a big help if you have trouble thinking of new passwords to use. Here’s a great article on creating strong passwords.
- Don’t give away your information. Make sure to not put your personal information in any email, to anyone. Real companies will never ask for your information via email, so don’t reply to anything asking for it. Be wary of scams.
- Keep an eye on all your accounts. You should be able to see if something is wrong with your accounts. Make sure to report any fraudulent activity to the company involved, the FBI, the FTC, and at least one of the national credit reporting agencies: Equifax (888-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742), and TransUnion (800-680-7289).
- Shred what you don’t need. If you have documents that you don’t need anymore, shred them. If you throw them away, they can still be read and stolen. Keep anything you don’t shred in a secure location. (Read our post, Buried Under for more information)
- You don’t have to purchase identity protection, but it may be worth it. While you can monitor things on your own and try to protect yourself, many people don’t monitor their accounts as well as they should and aren’t very careful about their information. If this sounds like you, it’s a good idea to check out your options and look into purchasing identity theft protection.