Protecting your credit & online security after the Equifax breach
Our Monday Answer Desk panel had lots of good advice on staying safer while online, suggesting actions to take in light of the Equifax data breach.
To protect your credit information from being accessed, Financial Planner Grace Ghezzi suggest putting a security freeze on your credit information. That means new creditors will not be able to see your information or get your credit score. It should stop new efforts at identity theft (typically if information is stolen it's used to create new credit accounts to access your money). You initiate the freeze by contacting one of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian or Equifax Ghezzi reminds that if you need credit (a major purchase like a car, or applying for a credit card, mortgage, or insurance, or if you're renting or changing jobs) you must un-freeze your account. In New York, it's free to place the first Security Freeze, but it'll cost $5 for removing or re-freezing (being a victim of identity theft changes the rules), www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection
has more detailed information.
If you're an online shopper, there are precautions you can take to protect your credit card: Eddie Moran, Lifelong Ithaca's Information Technology consultant, says you should always make sure you are on the 'real' site. Don't click on pop-up ads which may direct you to a fake site, and also make sure you have the correct spelling and tag on the website. It should also have a security lock (https, and a padlock symbol). Moran also suggests paying with a different credit card than one that's linked to your bank or savings account, so that if it is hacked, your money won't be drained.
Many of our calls were from people who don't use computers, and OCC Computer Studies Professor Sheila Sicilia says they, too need to worry about the Equifax breach because it's online information like credit card or banking or Social Security account numbers that may have been stolen. Everyone should keep a closer eye on bank and credit card accounts and account for every transaction (more often than with the monthly statements, if possible.) If you don't have a computer you can also freeze credit information by calling--though expect to wait. TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872; Experian: 1-888-397-3742; Equifax: 1-800-349-9960 (again, call one and the others will be updated).
It's also important to monitor your credit reports. www.CreditKarma.com will let you check your credit score. https://www.annualcreditreport.com/ (beware of look-alikes!) will help you get annual free credit reports from the 3 credit bureaus. It's advised you go to a different one, every four months: the rotation will give you updated information through the year. Obviously, if you see errors or discrepancies, get them corrected right away!
And, don't expect your virus scan to cover all aspects of personal computer safety. You also need an operating system that's kept up to date: Windows XP is no longer supported, which means that any security holes are no longer patchable. Windows 7 is still supported, but no matter the system your computer uses, be sure it's set for automatic updates!