After Equifax: How To Protect Your Family from Identity Theft
If the Equifax breach of 2017 has taught consumers anything, it’s that no company is immune to the dangers of a skilled hacker. Even the best security in the world can’t reduce the risk of identity theft by 100 percent. That’s why you should take an active role in protecting you and your whole family from potential data breaches. But what are the best measures parents can take to protect themselves and their children? Here’s a look.
Some Good News
While 145 million people were affected by the Equifax data breach, which included the loss of social security numbers, those individuals were people who had active credit reports with Equifax. Therefore, it is unlikely that your children’s social security number was included in the stolen information. This, however, does not mitigate the danger completely.
Child Identity Theft Dangers
While credit reports are not created until an individual opens a line of credit with a valid social security number, this creates another set of potential risks. If an identity their get their hands on a minor’s SSN, they can then open lines of credit with that information. Minors, of course, are not technically supposed to have lines of credit in the eyes of the law, but not all credit provides report the activity to credit agencies or authorities. This lack of accountability potentially leaves your children in the hands of those who open lines of credit, then abuse those lines with no consequences to themselves.
What You Can Do
The consequences of having your child’s SSN stolen when they are 5, 12 or 14 can be a mixed bag, but none of them are good. Maybe you daughter gets her driver’s license and finds she already has several outstanding citations that have racked up thousands of dollars in later fees. Maybe your son applies for student loans and finds he is ineligible due to the extreme debt already associated with his name.
One way you can prevent this is by opening a line of credit in your child’s name when they are still very young, then freezing the accounts immediately. If an identity thief does get your child’s SSN and tries to use it, they will be blocked by the credit agencies. To do this you must call each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian), create a file under your child’s name and SSN, then put an immediate freeze on the account at each agency.
Take another preemptive step and enlist the service of an identity theft prevention service. Not only will they monitor social security numbers, but also lines of credit, bank accounts and more. These companies can help you recover your or your child’s identity in the event of a breach.
Lastly, put a fraud alert on all the accounts associated with your family. Contact one of the three credit agencies to place an alert on your accounts. By law, that one will notify the two others. When you have a fraud alert on your accounts, a business must verify your identity before a purchase can be made. This verification often comes by way of a phone call. A fraud alert, however, only lasts 90 days, so you must renew it every three months if you suspect your are still a high risk for identity fraud.
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