My personal information has been stolen at least twice. As a result, I think it is important for everyone to consider taking basic steps to protect their information. Here are the simple steps that I recommend you use to try and protect your identity and credit:
- Open all mail. If someone opened a fraudulent account in your name, you might start to get mail that makes absolutely no sense to you. Don’t just chuck stuff that looks like junk mail.
- Use two factor authentication for all financial account logins. This is now required by the TSP, and it is for good reason.
- Use a password manager. I use Dashlane, although there are others. This ensures that your passwords are cryptic but that you don’t have to remember them.
- Consider establishing active duty credit alerts on all of your credit reports with all of the credit agencies.
- Check your credit report every four months, checking one from each of the three credit agencies. Some people check all of them at the same time once a year, but I think that by staggering them and doing one every four months it is more likely you’ll pick up something fishy sooner rather than later. Check for mistakes and accounts you don’t recognize. Both could be a sign of identity theft. Just go to AnnualCreditReports.com to get your free credit reports.
- Set up alerts so that you get notified whenever a transaction occurs without a credit card being present. Contact your credit card companies to get this set up. You can usually set dollar thresholds above which you want to be notified, or you can get notified about all transactions. When our credit cards have been hacked it has often been for modest amounts and things like gas purchases, so worrying only about high dollar purchases is probably not the way to go.
- Based on the Equifax hack and others, we have reported to the IRS that we are potential victims of identity theft. This means that we cannot file our taxes without a special pin that is mailed to us each year. This prevents others from fraudulently filing taxes in our name and stealing a fraudulent tax refund. Consider doing the same if this is applicable to you.
There are other steps you could consider taking that I have not personally adopted. For example, instead of an active duty alert you could place a freeze on your credit accounts. This prevents anyone (including you) from getting a credit card or loan in your name. It will also prevent you from doing things that require a credit check, like switching cell phone carriers or renting a house/apartment. Since I am still in the Navy, I decided to go with the active duty alert instead of the freeze due to the lower amount of hassle when we have to PCS in the future. Here’s a good post that explains the difference between the two options.
Websites like CreditKarma offer free, real-time credit monitoring. In the past I used their services, but don’t anymore. I honestly don’t remember why I turned it off, but I may consider signing up again now that I think of it.
Cyber incidents and identity theft are just par for the course nowadays and the price you pay for on-line convenience. Make sure you set up your own plan to limit the chances you’ll be personally affected by identity theft or cyber crime.