A new CreditCards.com report contains some stunning statistics:
- 50 percent of Americans have not checked their credit score since the massive Equifax breach in September 2017.
- 18 percent of U.S. adults have never checked their credit report or score.
“The massive Equifax data leak spurred class-action lawsuits, federal, state and international investigations and calls by U.S lawmakers for credit bureau reform. However, the breach failed to jolt a majority of consumers to review their credit files,” according to a post about the study.
Checking your credit score is both easy and important. Why? The information exposed in the breach and many others could easily be used to steal your identity. An identity thief could open credit card accounts in your name, file false tax returns and cause a heap of other damage. Your credit report could alert you to some types of identity theft (though it’s important to note many types of identity theft won’t even show up on your credit report including criminal identity theft, Social Security identity theft and, oftentimes, medical identity theft).
Additionally, “checking your credit report regularly is a good idea even without a major breach. Knowing where your credit stands gives you an idea as to whether you will qualify for loans and if there are areas you should be working on improving,” according to this madison.com story. “Having a higher credit score gives consumers easier access to credit of all types at better rates. Some employers and landlords use credit scores as well as part of their overall method of judging character.”
So, aside from monitoring your credit (here are three places you can score it for free), what are some other steps I could take to safeguard my identity you might be asking. Here’s what we suggest, in order of importance:
- Sign up for an identity theft restoration membership
The numbers are out and 2017 was the worst year yet for identity fraud, with some 16.7 million individuals affected.
- Freeze your credit
Yes, you could and probably should freeze your credit (we explain how to do it here). And be sure you freeze your credit instead of locking it. For the lowdown on the difference between the two, check this out. The credit bureaus are pushing people to lock their credit rather than freeze it, but a freeze is definitely the better route.
- Keep a close watch/sign up for alerts
You should keep a close eye on your bank and investment statements. Consider looking at them weekly rather than monthly. Also, watch the Explanation of Benefits statements from your health insurance company. Sign up for alerts on every account that allows it. Remain hypervigilant.
That’s worth repeating: There are many serious forms of identity theft that won’t show up on your credit report, including criminal identity theft, Social Security identity theft, employment identity theft, tax identity theft and medical identity theft. Again, a credit freeze is only one defense against identity theft.