Protecting my ID from the bad guys

11238345176_fda16b25fa_mJust the other day, I was chatting with a coworker who had been the victim of identity theft several times due to workplace security hacks/breaches. When he mentioned that he has a freeze on his credit, it reminded me that the very same thing has been on my financial to-do list for far too long.

Digging into better identity protection has been on my radar for quite some time, as I’d had several conversations with friends who’ve enacted varying degrees of prevention. A couple of years ago, my personal info may have been compromised through my health insurance provider. And again, just last week, I got a letter from my last health care company that the same thing happened!

Then, just a few hours after talking to my coworker, an ironic cherry was added to my financial fraud ice cream sundae. I got an automated phone call alerting me of possible fraudulent charges on one of my credit cards! I confirmed they were totally bogus – I was not trying to buy $5 worth of stuff at a CVS in Maine on Tuesday. Yikes! Fortunately, the charges were declined and the card is now being replaced. I dodged a small bullet there.

I took all of this as a sign to get my act together and take action to protect myself against fraud TODAY. Here’s my plan:

Check my credit report

This was fairly quick and easy, but not without hiccups. I visited and went through the process of getting all three reports. I was only able to get two of them online, though. I somehow managed to answer those pesky security questions incorrectly for one of them. How am I supposed to remember the exact original amount of the mortgage I took out 7 years ago, or my home phone number from 1998 when I was in school and moving every few years?! Arg.

Fortunately, nothing unusual popped up on the reports that I downloaded. All accounts in good standing and no suspicious activity. Excellent. Now that I confirmed all is good at the moment, on to the next step.

ID Protection Service

My health insurance provider who was hacked is offering identity theft and restoration services free for one year. I signed up, but it’s not super clear what they do to prevent me from getting hacked…I need to dig into this a bit more. I did see that if I become a victim, they assign a “recovery advocate” who will hold my hand every step of the way out  that mess. Sounds like a good level of protection, but I’m not convinced it’s enough.

Place a freeze on my credit

I’ve heard that a credit freeze is the way to go if you’re serious about protecting your ID. It’s a matter of contacting each credit bureau and, for a fee of about $10, your credit is basically shut down to the outside world until you chose to open it back up permanently or for a short window of time. I found a great FTC site with FAQ’s and links to the credit bureau freeze pages. I learned that a freeze won’t necessarily prevent misuse of  existing accounts; it’s more for thieves opening new credit or stealing an identity all together.

I’m going to give this a try and see how it goes. I have no plans to refinance my condo or open new credit anytime soon. The only foreseeable event could be a job change. In that case, I can lift the freeze for a specified period of time or just to allow a particular company to access it.

The process wasn’t terribly long or painful. It took about 30 minutes to fill out the online forms for each company (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) and pay the $10 fees.

Keeping an eye on my accounts

The last thing to note is simply being aware of the activity in my accounts on a regular basis. I already do this and am confident that if any bad charges happened, I would notice them quickly. I reconcile all of my accounts every 1-2 weeks, with the help of You Need a Budget (YNAB). I keep promising a post dedicated to how I use their software, which I will do soon!

Now I feel confident that my financial castle is fortified from marauders trying to steal my monies. Single ladies gotta watch out for themselves, right?!

(Image: stavos)

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