It has been around 3 months since Equifax dropped the bombshell that was their security breach, and the subsequent theft of the personal details of over 145 million of their trusting customers.
In the days and weeks that followed, millions of us have taken taken steps to protect ourselves in the future but that is not the only thing that happened. For a start, Equifax was hit a second time, with their website redirecting to malware, and a contract with the IRS for Equifax to provide taxpayer identity verification services was put on hold; safety and security aside, the irony may well have proved to be too much.
The question on the lips of many consumers now, in the wake of the Equifax hack, is “can I still safely apply for a credit card?”. The short answer is yes, so long as you protect yourself, but many people may feel safer applying for a personal loan instead – take a look at LendingPoint Personal reviews for inspiration – instead, or something similar. There is nothing wrong with that approach, indeed in many cases a personal loan is just what is needed.
Life after Equifax: Handling your credit card applications
It would seem that trust has not diminished that much (overall that is, Equifax still has a lot to claw back) since a poll conducted by SSRS found that 81% of the people they spoke to would still consider signing up for a new credit card in the future.
Make no mistake, the Equifax breach was huge and affected more than 145 million people. It now appears that more than social security numbers and dates of birth were taken; full names, driver’s licence numbers, addresses, credit numbers with more besides were also stolen. However, people are still able to use existing cards and even apply for new lines of credit, including cards, with appropriate measures of protection:
Be sure of the site’s security
The first thing that you should ever do, before entering any information – however innocuous it may seem – is to make sure that the site you are on is secure. This is fairly easy to do by looking for a padlock icon in the address bar of your browser window. The padlock should be closed, which indicates the certificate is up to date, and the address itself should begin with “https” as opposed to “http”. Neither of these things can be spoofed, so they are good starting points.
Always take emails offering credit card deals with a pinch of salt
Opportunists love emails, and phishing scams are getting more sophisticated. There is always the chance that hackers have stolen your email address in order to entice you into signing up with your personal details. Scammers will then use these details to order cards of their own. Always verify ‘offers’ on a secure site, not through an email.
Sign up for alerts with your bank / card issuer
One way to protect yourself is by having your bank or your card issuer alert you to password change attempts, every time a withdrawal is made, when your account reaches a certain balance… There are several other custom alerts that can be configured, and these should be discussed with a representative who will be only too happy to help you.
Consider two-factor authentication
Upon opening a new account, anywhere and with anyone, get yourself setup with two-factor authentication to double down on your login security. As an example, when you login with your regular details you may have a one time code sent to your cell that needs to be entered into the site before it will allow you to continue. Many online services offer this layer of security too, not just banks, so consider locking those down also to protect yourself even further.
Check up on your credit report
You can grab a free copy of your report from one or even all of the credit agencies, once every twelve months – getting one from all 3 means you can stagger them and get a report every four months. Requesting these reports is pretty straightforward, and can be done at the website of Annual Credit Report. Going over your credit report, keep your eye out for things that don’t look right:
- Names don’t match
- Credit enquiries from lenders you didn’t apply to
- Accounts you didn’t open
There are others that will stand out to you if you are diligent.
Monitor your credit report
The first thing you should note is that credit monitoring, by its nature, is reactive not proactive. In other words, you can only take action once something has already happened – that being said, it does give you the chance to act sooner rather than later. If something out of the ordinary is discovered, you will be able to take steps to correct or remove it. Credit monitoring is the next best option to credit freezing, especially if you plan on taking out a credit card or other financial product.
Credit freezing is a step up from monitoring and is also seen as being the ‘nuclear’ option. This measure of last resort withdraws your report right of the games, making it impossible for anybody (even you) to view it until you unfreeze it. Making the report unavailable for viewing makes it impossible for financial products to be applied for, protecting you in a very real way. This may not be the best option for everybody but it does protect you fully from financial fraud.
Protection is everything
When almost half of the American population affected by the Equifax data theft, there is an extremely good chance that you, or somebody you know has had their personal information stolen. It is a sobering thought, to be sure, but there is no reason for you to go all John Connor and go off grid just yet.
You, and everybody else, can still apply for financial services and products safely, so long as steps are taken to protect yourself, your existing accounts and any that you may take open in the future.