Black Friday is over. Millions of people across the country crammed into stores to shop for the best deals. However, you should be aware that criminals take advantage of this shopping holiday to commit widespread identity theft. You may even remember the massive Black Friday data breach that occurred at Target stores in 2013. Hackers stole credit and debit card information from 40 million Target shoppers.
Identity theft can destroy your finances. Your credit scores could suffer. You may be unable to access new credit until the issue is resolved. It could take months or even years to repair the damage. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
Monitor your credit reports
You should be regularly monitoring the information on your credit reports to spot instances of identity theft. Warning signs can include unfamiliar accounts and credit inquiries on your reports.
You can obtain one free credit report per year from each credit monitoring agency (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). We published a newsletter that discusses how you can pull your free credit reports. Some banks also offer credit monitoring services that may quickly alert you to instances of identity theft. However, these services generally cost money. Free services like Credit Karma may also monitor your credit.
Freeze your credit for free
If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, then it may be necessary to freeze your credit. You would have to place a freeze with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Once a freeze is placed, identity thieves will have a much more difficult time gaining access to your credit. However, this means that many other businesses or services will also be barred from accessing your credit information. You should consider all of your options before placing a freeze with the three credit bureaus.
To unfreeze or “thaw” your credit, you would have to provide the agencies with the PIN that was given to you when you placed the freeze. You can lift a credit freeze within one hour by calling the three credit agencies.
Place a fraud alert
You could also a place a fraud alert on your credit if you are concerned about identity theft. Fraud alerts, which can last for up to one year, will warn businesses to check with you before opening new accounts. Identity theft victims can also use fraud alerts that last for seven years.
One of the major perks about fraud alerts is that they are free to implement and have fewer potential consequences than credit freezes.
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