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Protecting Yourself from Fraud and Identity Theft

Stealing a credit card through a laptop

You’re facing a much larger risk right now than you might be aware of. The odds of having your identity stolen and facing fraud committed in your name is at an all-time high. But you can do something about it if you act quickly

If I told you someone was stealing money and harming your company’s reputation, you would take action pretty quickly, right?

Why don’t you do the same thing with your own money and reputation?

“Oh, fraud and identity theft won’t affect me. There are so many people out there to steal from.”

Wrong.

I don’t often write on “personal” topics but this is one that can affect your reputation, your job prospects, and it can drain your time and energy which will affect your job performance. This is serious stuff. Pay attention and take action.

For context, I used to work in the credit card industry. I understand fraud, credit scores, credit bureaus, and identity theft. I know how it happens and I know what the impact can be. And right now, you’re at risk of having your identity stolen.

Recently Equifax reported that 143 MILLION personal records had been stolen. That includes social security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and who knows what else. With only 300 million people in the US, there’s a pretty high probability your personal information was compromised. Mine was. My parents’ was. My daughter’s was. This is real folks.

The people who stole that information fully intend on using it to take out new lines of credit in someone else’s name, max that credit out, and walk away from the mess having stolen money and goods from the credit card companies and banks.

“I don’t care. It’s not my money.” you might think. No. It’s not. But it’s your name.

Those bad debts will show up on your credit report. They’ll tarnish your credit rating. They’ll increase the cost of getting a loan or credit card or mortgage. They’ll harm your job search. They’ll be a nightmare to clear up because you will have to prove it wasn’t you who incurred the debt. That takes time and effort on your part. Do I have your attention yet?

You can do something about this though. You need to take three actions immediately:

  1. See if your information has been compromised
  2. Whether or not it has been compromised, freeze your credit reports at all three credit bureaus
  3. Sign up for credit monitoring

Look – I have zero financial interest in making this recommendation. I’m not getting commissions or payments for getting people to sign up for these services. None of these companies are clients of mine. I’m sharing this information to help my readers protect themselves from bad things. To that end, I’ve put together a simple set of instructions for how to do the above three things.

Checking to see if your data was compromised at Equifax

Go to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/am-i-impacted/ and click “Am I impacted?”

Put in the last SIX digits of your SSN and your last name. It will tell you if your data was released in the breach. Again, even if it wasn’t, you should freeze your credit.

If you don’t trust me or worry I’m not providing an accurate link, go ahead directly to Equifax’s website and navigate from there. They have links all over the place to help you check if you’ve been compromised.

Freezing Your Credit Reports

When you place a freeze on your credit reports, it prevents fraudsters from taking credit out in your name. Basically if a lender checks your credit, the bureaus tell the lender your credit is frozen which tells the lender not to issue credit in your name. You need to place a freeze on your credit with all three credit bureaus – Transunion, Experian, and Equifax.

When you want to get credit in the future (new credit card, credit limit increase, car/house/student loan, etc. – basically anything where they check your credit), you need to lift the freeze with all three agencies. You can do a temporary lift for 15 to 30 days depending on the agency. If you don’t lift the freeze, you won’t be issued new credit.

When you do the freeze, each credit reporting agency will issue you a PIN. YOU MUST HAVE THAT PIN TO LIFT THE FREEZE IN THE FUTURE. DO NOT LOSE THIS PIN.

Even if your credit information was not compromised in the Equifax data breach, you should still freeze your credit. If you’re not seeking credit, there’s no reason to have your credit unlocked. Placing a freeze may require a small payment with Experian and Transunion. Equifax has been doing it for free (as you’d expect since this is all their fault because of the breach).

Freezing your credit at Transunion

Freezing your credit at Experian

Freezing your credit with Equifax

  • Go to https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp to place a freeze
  • Equifax does not have you set your own PIN. They set it. At the end of the freeze registration there will be a link to download a PDF with your PIN.
  • Important note: Once you place a security freeze on your Equifax credit file, a PIN will be displayed on a one-time PDF that you can view and print. Your PIN will not be emailed, so please be sure to refer to the How do I get my PIN box for further information.

Monitoring Your Credit

Even after you place your freezes, monitor your credit several times per year. You can download your credit bureau free once per year from each bureau.

You can also sign up for credit monitoring. If there’s activity on your credit report like an attempted request for new credit, you’ll be notified. You can get credit monitoring for free from Equifax since they’re the ones who messed up. The free service will last for a year although I’ve heard a rumor that if you sign up for it with them before December 31st that it will be free for life. The other bureaus and credit monitoring services offered through your credit card companies or banks might charge a fee for the service.

This is Serious

My information was compromised as was the information of several family members. I’ve already frozen all their credit. I’m signing them all up for monitoring. I’m being hypersensitive to personal information being shared. It takes a lot of time to clean up after identity theft. Protect yourself now.

Part of that protection means hiding personal information. I’ll bet if I went on Facebook right now, I could find your birthday, address, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, and high school and middle school (which will tell me your mascots). If you’ve answered any of these stupid information harvester memes like “What was your first car?” or “Name a dog without the letter A in its name” questions, you’ve likely given up personal information that can be used to answer your banking security questions. Those aren’t fun memes folks. Those are deliberate data harvesters that the bad guys are using to assemble a full identity theft dossier on you. I’m not kidding.

Be paranoid. Protect yourself. Before it’s too late.

If you want a 1-page PDF of the above instructions, email us at credit@thoughtleadersllc.com and tell us you want the identity theft protection PDF.

Please share this post with friends and family. Post it on Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn.

Let’s take care of one another and at least make it really difficult for the fraudsters to harm our identity and our credit rating.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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