|Credit: Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I must admit, at first, I did not want to do anything. I found myself thinking “I’m busy, I’m tired, and it’s probably not my data anyway… but wait, did they say 143 million?!” Due to moving in the last couple of years and having to swap out family cars for smaller cars, I had not frozen my credit so I could avoid the hassle of “thawing” (unfreezing your credit) and then having to refreeze. I’m also a little embarrassed to admit I had never formally signed up for any identity theft monitoring or protection despite my discussing this topic with many of my friends, family members, and clients. Rational thinking returned, motivation coursed through my veins, and my thinking became “143 million? Yeah, I’m probably one of them. What am I waiting for? I help people with their personal finances for crying out loud! It’s time for the cobbler’s children to have shoes! It’s high time for me to review my family’s annual credit reports, freeze my family’s credit, and sign up for some identity theft monitoring and protection.” Well, I’m pleased to report to you I did, and here’s what I experienced in the process.
Before I froze my credit, I decided I would make sure all was well. I used my right under Federal Law to run a free, annual credit report for myself and my wife with all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). I got three different looking reports for both my wife and me, but everything appeared to be in order. All data was right, all lines of credit (credit cards, mortgages, etc.) were known to me and were correct, and we had no outstanding, unpaid bills. This was what I expected, but it offered peace of mind to confirm. If you find something that does not look right, dig in. At best it’s a mistake you can correct and potentially boost your credit score, and at worst it can be a fraudulent line of credit tied to you that could be hurting your credit score or be a sign of a successful fraud or identity theft against your good name.
I then went to Experian to freeze my credit, and after proving I was me by answering a few questions, it was taken care of. Equifax was next and they were even easier to freeze my credit with. They did give me a painfully long PIN to keep up with, but other than that, no complaints. TransUnion was last, and again, no real troubles. I will warn you, they do require unique usernames, so I did have to get a little creative. All this said, be prepared to answer trivia questions about your telephone numbers, mortgage holders, banks, previous addresses, mortgage amounts, monthly mortgage payments, credit card companies, and student loans. Be prepared to write down or record all of your new usernames, passwords, PINs, and login information, so that one day you can smoothly thaw your credit if need be. Also be aware that depending on what state you live in, this process may cost you a few bucks (it was $3 per credit freeze per credit bureau in Georgia). Finally, with the angry and scared hoard of consumers trying to freeze their credit like you, I would suggest you freeze your credit online (not over the phone) and late at night when there is less traffic to make this as painless of a process as possible for you.
With frostbitten fingers after all of the credit freezing that had gone down I turned to finding some identity theft monitoring and protection. There are an ever growing list of companies providing various versions of this service out there, and I recommend you research several providers to determine what level of service monitoring, what level of identity theft restoration coverage, and what price point is appropriate for you. I will say that I think some type of monitoring and protection is probably a good idea, but I would not necessarily hurt the family budget with your selection, either. Either way, the LifeLock coverage I decided to go with did instantly identify that my LinkedIn login information may have been sold on the dark web back in 2016. Lovely! LinkedIn notified me about the breach and I changed my password back then, so I think I’m good, but that is the type of warning certainly good to receive, particularly if you are the kind of person who likes to use the same password for everything!
If you have already reviewed your credit reports, frozen your credit with all three credit bureaus, and have some sort of identity theft monitoring and protection in place, my hat is off to you. If you have not, I would suggest you make time to do so in the very near future to make sure your financial house is as protected as it can be.
I’ve heard it said there are two types of people out there: those that have been hacked and those that don’t know they have been hacked. I sincerely hope that’s not the case, but sadly I don’t think any of us can afford to take that chance!