This October is the 14th anniversary of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM).
NCSAM was created to raise awareness – through different events and initiatives – about the vital role cyber security should play in our everyday lives. Understanding the tools and resources that everyone needs to stay safe online in the event of a cyber-attack is critical.
It’s a month about also helping you avoid what was made much more difficult this summer when Equifax, one of the four credit rating services in the United States, was hacked between mid-May through July 2017.
According to Equifax, more than 143 million records could have been compromised. This information included people’s names, Social Security numbers, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers.
If you have ever purchased a home, automobile or needed your credit score checked for a large purchase, there’s a good chance you used Equifax. The other three major credit rating services are Experian, Trans Union and Innovis.
If your credit card was compromised, that can be changed fairly easily. But if your Social Security number, birth date and full names were compromised, that’s tougher to change.
To say this is a big deal is an understatement. But there are things you can do right now to protect yourself.
Equifax has created a website where you can learn more about what took place. One of the options it offers is being able to check if your data is believed to be compromised.
Understanding Credit Monitoring Services
It’s important to remember that credit monitoring does not protect you from credit card fraud. This has always been a very common misconception.
A credit monitoring service notifies you when someone is attempting to commit identity fraud in your name, such as registering for a new credit card or bank loan.
Some monitoring services provide additional features, such as providing insurance and helping you recover from identity theft. You only need to register for credit monitoring with one of the four credit bureaus because they all work in conjunction with one another.
A well-kept secret about credit monitoring services is that many are the same services repackaged by different companies. Here is a great comparison and reviews about those services and which offer the best features at the best price.
There are limitations when it comes to credit monitoring. Here is a great blog from blogger Brian Krebs from “Krebs on Security” on that very subject.
Knowing The Difference Between Security and Credit Freezes
Taking action with a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is the best way to protect yourself from identity theft.
A credit freeze locks your credit score so no one else can access it. That also means that no one will give you (or a criminal pretending to be you) a new loan or credit card.
The challenge is that you have to manually set up a credit freeze with each of the four credit bureaus.
If you want to get a new loan or credit card, you have to manually unlock your credit score. Applying for a new loan or credit card isn’t something you do every day, so freezing your credit may be worth the effort.
If you do freeze your credit, existing creditors or debt collectors will still have access to your report, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Here is a great breakdown on what a security freeze is (Krebs on Security). The good news is, each of the four major credit score companies have an online link to freeze your score. Below are links to their respective security freeze web pages.
- Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 / 1-800-349-9960
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
- Innovis: 1-800-540-2505
Monitoring Your Financial Accounts
Watching your bank and credit card accounts carefully is something most people do. Staying vigilant by checking all of your accounts at least once a day will help you stay on top of things.
In the coming weeks, cyber attackers will try to take advantage of the Equifax breach and launch millions of phishing emails, phone calls or text messages trying to fool people.
Monitoring cyber security events is also important. Understanding the information available to you and knowing how to act on different events that occur can help to keep your personal information safe and secure.