Just when you think it was safe to believe your Social Security number can’t get stolen…news breaks of the Anthem data breach. Over 80,000,000 patient records were compromised, including SSNs and home addresses. Like a meteor striking the earth, a disastrous ripple effect is underway, with patients getting hit up with phishing e-mails.
If you ever suspect your SSN has been stolen, some suggest contacting the IRS and Social Security Administration and notify them of your situation. The thief can do bad things with your number, but if you contact these agencies, can you really protect yourself from that? I’m not sure these agencies can really do anything based on the volume of fraud happening today.
So what should you do to guard against ID theft while you’re still ahead?
Your credit report should have a fraud alert placed on it. This way, lenders and creditors will be stricter about identifying you as the authentic applicant. Thus, a thief will probably flunk these extra steps. Contact either Equifax, Experian or Transunion and they’ll place the 90-day fraud alert. You can also ask for an extension. Consider re-establishing the fraud alert every 90 days. The fraud alert will net you a copy of your credit report. Examine it carefully.
Watch your credit like a hawk. If nothing happens during those 90 days, this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. A thief may act after 90 days, or, just as a baseline good practice, you should still always monitor your credit. Self-monitoring your credit involves either buying your credit report as often as you’d like or getting it free, quarterly at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Credit freeze. A more secure measure is to freeze your credit, but this means you too can’t do anything like apply for a refinance on your house until it’s “thawed”. But if you don’t foresee needing to do that or open new lines of credit in the near future, then you’ll get more peace of mind with a credit freeze.
If an unforeseen need to apply for a loan surfaces, you can unfreeze your credit. Just keep good notes regarding the user/pass and web address to quickly thaw your credit. A credit freeze/thaw requires a one-time fee of $5-$15.00. Cheap and effective.
Identity theft protection. This is a no brainer. For $100-$300 annually for an individual or family of 4, your identity is being monitored 24/7 by professionals who will also restore your identity in the event of loss. Check with the companies Terms of Service and their features/benefits to determine what the will and will not protect against.
Be smart. Though some hackers are amazingly ingenious and subtle with their schemes, other tricks are so obvious that it’s astounding that anyone who’s smart enough to use a computer could fall for them.
A college degreed professional can be so caught up in the latest trash or tragic news about a very high profile celebrity that they could be lured right into the palm of a ruthless scammer: The bait is a link to an exclusive interview with the celebrity’s mother. Hah! Click the link, and you’ll become the mouse in a trap.
- Never click links inside e-mails, even if it seems that the sender is from someone you know.
- Don’t even bother opening e-mails with sensationalistic subject lines like “Exclusive Video of Bruce Jenner in Mini Skirt.”
- When using various online accounts, see if they offer two-factor authentication; then use it.
- Use different passwords for all of your accounts, and make them long and unique, not “123Kitty.”
- Use antivirus and anti-malware and keep them updated; also use a firewall.
- Shred all personal documents before putting them in the rubbish.
Never give out your SSN except for job applications, loan applications, credit card applications and other “big stuff.”