Whether you like it or not, your credit rating is all important. Besides determining if you can get a credit card or not, it’s also critical for buying a house, how much you pay in interest when you get credit, and even if someone will rent you an apartment. So, it wasn’t great when one of the big three credit rating companies, Equifax, revealed it had been cracked due to complete security incompetence.

Worse still, Equifax admitted that for at least weeks, if not months, 143 million names, social-security numbers (SSN), birth dates, home addresses, and more private information was all exposed. In short, everything a thief would ever need to steal your identity was up for grabs. Thanks Equifax! We appreciate it!

The good news is there are plenty of ways you can protect your privacy and your personal data, both online and out in the real world. Here are five steps you can take right now to safeguard your identity and your private data.

Issue a Credit Freeze
For starters, you should freeze your credit. This isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. Without a credit freeze you may live in Pennsylvania, but find yourself with a brand-new credit card in California. Which, oh by the way, has been used to buy a new car.

By placing a freeze on the major credit rating accounts, the vast majority of companies that want to get your credit data are locked out from your information. When you need to get credit, you can still:

Allow lenders to see your report for a limited period.
Allow specific lenders to see your report for a short period of time.
Remove the Security Freeze entirely.
To put a freeze on you must go to the following sites:

Equifax (If you dare. We know – but they’re still one of the options.)
How much you’ll pay to freeze your account varies from service to service and from state to state. For example, in North Carolina you don’t have to pay a dime.

Additional credit protection
When it comes to security, the credit reporting agencies range from barely functional to totally incompetent. For example, even after Equifax made the biggest security blunder in history, Experian allowed anyone to retrieve your personal identification number (PIN) needed to unlock your frozen credit record. That being the case, while freezing your credit records is the one thing you must do, you should also consider protecting your identity with an identity-theft protection service.

I used to only recommend these if your identity had already been compromised. Unfortunately, thank to Equifax, your name and SSN are almost certainly already out there.

At a minimum you want one that tracks your financial activity and your personal information. You also want a service that alerts you by email or text when there are large changes to any account balance or credit card expenses. The sooner you’re alerted, the better your chances of stopping a thief in their tracks.


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