With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many are dealing with some serious credit questions. Is my credit card safe? How can I protect my credit? Even: Is credit monitoring a scam?
If you’ve asked some of these questions, you may need to consider taking the following five steps to protect and, in some cases, monitor your credit regularly.
Here are some options that can ensure your credit is safe and clear:
Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to consumer expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.
The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports. For those using Equifax, it’s actually free from here on out due to the recent data breach.
You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.
This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com
While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.
This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.
Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.
If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.
Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.
To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring − but only through Jan. 31, 2018 − with its TrustedID Premier.
Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.
It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.
Those with specific questions about the Equifax breach and how it may impact them may contact Howard's Consumer Action Center — a free helpline open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST Monday through Friday with Team Clark volunteers available to answer concerns at 404-892-8227.