Protecting Your Financial Identity
Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech
Whenever you apply for a loan, credit card, purchase a phone, or conduct other financial transactions, a credit reporting agency is electronically contacted to see if you qualify. In early September we learned Equifax, one of the big three reporting companies in the U.S., suffered a massive breach. Financial and personal details of nearly half of all Americans may have been accessed, providing thieves with a gold mine of data.
These records are sufficient to allow someone to pretend to be you when calling organizations with whom you have accounts and make changes that give them access to your credit. Or, they may pretend to be you with some other organization and open new accounts in your name. Many I talk with are numb to the reports of repeated data breaches that occur every year and have taken no action. While there is no perfect response, let’s consider some reasonable ways to deal with this type of breach.
When an event like this occurs, the company with the loss often provides credit monitoring and/or identity theft monitoring for a period of time. This type of service will notify you of events that impact your credit. If this type of service is offered, you would be wise to accept it. For this particular event, Equifax has created a website, and addressed early problems with this site and its offerings. The monitoring services are available for sign up through January 2018, at this location.
You are also entitled by law to a free annual credit report from each of the three agencies. They may be requested from this company. Note, your credit score is not included with these free reports. These are available for a fee from the respective credit companies.
Financial and personal details of nearly half of all Americans may have been accessed, providing thieves with a gold mine of data It is a good idea to review your reports annually to check for discrepancies between their records and yours. Some choose to request their reports separately at different times of the year, or you may request them all at once. The choice is yours.
Beyond the reporting services, it is important to be aware and engage in monitoring your own existing financial relationships. Thankfully, with modern banking this is far easier than it used to be. Take time to review the options available via the apps and websites of your credit card companies and other financial institutions. For example, with American Express I have set my account to alert my phone each time a “card not present” transaction happens. So if a purchase is made online, a friendly but noticeable alert pops up on my phone telling me the time, vendor, and amount that was just charged to my card. If there is inappropriate use, I can contact the card issuer immediately. There is no need to allow fraudulent charges to pile up between statements. Banks also offer a variety of automatic alerts. These can inform you when an account balance changes significantly and when a certain sized transaction occurs. Or they can provide periodic notifications of the account balance. Many banks and credit cards will also alert customers via text, email, or app if new cards have been requested.
Some credit card companies will also provide access to your FICO score free of charge. This is another way to take the pulse of your credit and see if anything has changed. Taking time to set up these alerts may reduce the time bad guys have access to your accounts.
Check for Changes
Finally, take time to review your email (more than once a month is a good idea) and watch for notices of password changes, new account verifications, and other notices of unexpected changes related to organizations you have financial relationships with. As mentioned in previous articles, don’t click on links from unexpected emails, but do contact the notifying organizations either by website or phone to ensure all is in order.
We live in a time when financial transactions can be made with ease and at lightning speed. The price for such convenience is to constantly check the locks and to take action when something is amiss.
Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.