The recent Equifax data breach has many people talking about privacy and what you can do to protect your personal information. While it’s true that you should try to safeguard your private data from people with bad intentions, it’s also true that there’s a very good chance your information is going to be exposed at some point.
Equifax’s data breach alone just put the personal information of some 145.5 million U.S. consumers at risk. According to reports from Identity Theft Resource Center, over 1 billion records have been exposed in data breaches since 2005 – and that’s just the breaches that have been made public.
With such massive numbers of exposed records, not to mention all the information we willingly give away online, it’s safe to assume that your information isn’t private any longer, and perhaps hasn’t been for a very long time.
The question therefore becomes: What should you do to protect yourself in this world where “data privacy” is an endangered species? What you can’t do includes hitting some sort of metaphorical “delete” button and removing all your information from the cyber world. Although, that would make for a great app!
Most of us are understandably angry about the never-ending string of high profile data breaches. After all, in the case of the credit bureaus specifically, you don’t recall giving permission for any company to collect your account management habits or the other types of information that appears on your credit reports. Yet like it or not, the credit bureaus can legally collect, store, and sell your information without your permission if they obey various federal and state laws when they do so.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the primary federal statute that serves to protect you and your information where credit reporting is concerned. Among the many rights that the FCRA confers upon you is the right to expect to see only accurate information on your credit reports. Unfortunately, that’s not always the way credit reporting works.
Credit reporting errors and fraud exist. When such issues occur, the result is that inaccurate and potentially unfair information could show up on your credit reports, lowering your credit scores and often making it difficult to qualify for the financing and services you desire and deserve.
However, you may not realize that it’s always been your personal responsibility to check your credit reports for accuracy. In an age where the privacy of your information is no longer a certainty — and perhaps even nonexistent — that responsibility is more important than ever.
Routine credit checks might not necessarily prevent fraud or credit reporting errors, but they can make you aware when something goes wrong so that you can take steps to correct the problem.
Protecting Your Credit
Your credit identity is ground zero when your personal information has been stolen. Credit fraud is the easiest way to monetize that information. As such, identity theft is one of the biggest threats you may face when your personal information is stolen.
Identity theft occurs whenever someone steals and uses your personal information to impersonate you or to open fraudulent accounts in your name. Although it’s difficult to fully protect your personal information, you can take steps to protect your credit reports. If a crook manages to steal your info but cannot actually open any fraudulent accounts in your name, then you’ve avoided the problem of cleaning up the aftermath.
Placing a credit freeze on all three of your credit reports is perhaps the best way that you can protect your credit from fraud, especially if you believe your data may have already been compromised. When you freeze your credit reports, they are actually taken out of circulation, preventing new lenders from accessing them. As a result, if someone applies for a fraudulent account in your name, the application will be denied. If the thieves cannot qualify for an account in your name, then they’ll simply move on to the next victim on their list.
- Why You Need to Check Your Credit Report With All Three Credit Bureaus
- Five Tips for Applying for Credit Cards in a Post-Equifax Breach World
- Listen to What Your Credit Score Is Trying to Tell You
John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books on the topic and has been interviewed and quoted thousands of times over the past 10 years. With time spent at Equifax and FICO, Ulzheimer is the only credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has been an expert witness in over 230 credit related lawsuits and has been qualified to testify in both federal and state courts on the topic of consumer credit.
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