If you’ve never gotten a letter or email about being part of a data breach, consider yourself a blessed soul. If you have, then you understand how scary it can be to get that kind of news. I’ve teamed up with TransUnion to talk about how you can protect your personal data in the case of a data breach. Though all opinions are my own, I’ve been compensated for this post.
Some time ago, I remember getting a letter in the mail about my husband’s information possibly being accessed due to a data breach. I was stunned and wasn’t really sure what to do. I just remember a flurry of questions coming to my mind.
Would our huge push to become debt free be for naught?
Would someone steal my husband’s identity then go on a shopping spree with his information?
Could we be back into the throes of suffocating consumer debt yet again?
The possibilities for financial ruin seemed pretty terrible at the time. I was very sure someone had cloned my husband and was living his life just about the time we found about the breach — dramatic, I know.
In fact, I was tempted to curl up in a ball and wait it out in a corner but I took to the internets for answers. After searching the web on the subject for quite a while, we concluded that there wasn’t much else we could do except sit around and wait to see if the hackers would assume my husband’s identity, ruin our financial lives or both.
Thankfully, it didn’t take too long before we figured out that we could put a freeze on his credit at the different credit bureaus, also known as consumer reporting agencies (CRA.) It was quite the process. It took some letters, emails, a few phone calls back and forth and at the time, each bureau charged a small fee to freeze his credit, but eventually, we froze his credit successfully.
Years later, when it came time to apply for a construction loan for an investment property, we didn’t get very far into the underwriting process before we found out that his credit was still frozen. It was pretty involved to get the freeze reversed. We had to present his PIN to each bureau and pay the fee (which varied by state and bureau) to unfreeze the credit report. If you misplaced your PIN, you had to notify each bureau in writing to either get a new PIN or lift the freeze altogether
Back then, the process of freezing and unfreezing my credit was cumbersome. Nowadays, thanks to credit bureaus like TransUnion, taking steps to protect your credit is becoming easier for consumers.
TransUnion recently introduced the myTransUnion app, available for download on Android or iOS devices to help you freeze and unfreeze your TransUnion credit report right from your phone for FREE. This would have been so handy when we first learned about the data breach that involved my husband’s information years ago.
As if having an easy-to-use app to freeze your credit weren’t enough, you should know that it’s now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit in every state and with every credit bureau thanks to recent legislation.
Nowadays, it’s more common to find yourself in the situation my husband was in years back. We often hear about massive data breaches — even in places where you think your data should be secure: credit card companies, places of employment and retailers. In fact, it seems to happen so much, we’ve almost become immune to it. I found out that a nationwide survey conducted by TransUnion showed that as many as 89 percent of respondents feel that protecting themselves from data breaches or fraud is not easy.
However, hope is not lost. There are plenty of free, easy-to-use tools you can use to protect yourself.
Check out this decision tree infographic, which serves as a helpful guide to figure out the best ways to protect yourself, depending on where you currently stand with your credit.
If a credit freeze is the right step for you, the good news is that it’s becoming easier to freeze your credit report by using tools like the myTransUnion app mentioned above. If you do decide a freeze is right for you, you need to make sure to contact the other two credit bureaus in addition to the TransUnion app.
Finding out that your data had been in a data breach is definitely a good time to place a freeze on your credit. But, it’s not the only option you have to protect yourself. There are plenty of other tools you can use to proactively keep fraudsters at bay, like credit monitoring.
Signing up for credit monitoring services, like TransUnion’s TrueIdentity is another way to protect your credit. TrueIdentity is a free credit and identity protection product designed to help consumers protect their identity through combining monitoring with alerts. The service will alert you to suspicious activity that could prompt you to lock your credit.
TrueIdentity’s “Lock Alert” feature will automatically send real-time alerts to subscribers whenever anyone attempts to access their locked TransUnion credit report. The alert includes important information on the creditor where the application was made and the contact information should the consumer want to reach out and flag that the application was fraudulent. Lock alert does not prevent subscribers’ credit scores from changing.
Pretty neat, huh?
Now that it’s easy and accessible to manage your credit report, you’ve got more power than ever to take control of your personal information and make sure it remains safe. Though we hear about data breaches regularly, it’s good to know that we can act quickly and securely to keep our finances on the right track.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of TransUnion. The opinions and text are all mine.