Experts sound the alarm that we don’t check our credit reports — even after big breaches like Equifax and Yahoo
They breached our trust, and we didn’t do a thing about it.
Even after massive data breaches — like the Equifax breach that impacted 145 million consumers back in September — millions of Americans still don’t check their credit scores or reports.
According to a survey of more than 1,000 Americans released Monday by CreditCards.com, 50% of adults in America have not checked either their credit score or their credit report in the last six months — which means that even after the highly publicized Equifax breach they did nothing.
Some, of course, may not have known about the breach, but even those that did, still didn’t act. Nearly three in 10 people who say they heard “a lot” about the breach still didn’t bother to check their credit. “That’s disturbing,” said CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst, Matt Schulz. “If this breach won’t get people to act, what will?”
So why do nothing — even in the face of thieves possibly stealing their money and identities? Schulz says some of this may be due to “breach fatigue.” “We’ve heard about breaches so much,” he notes — and that often leads us to feel like there’s nothing we can do; in turn, we do nothing. Indeed, in 2017 alone, we learned that all of Yahoo’s 3 billion accounts had been hacked back in 2013, and that school districts, voter records and even Uber data had been compromised.
Part of it is also that we’re busy. “Our to-do lists are a million miles long, and credit checks don’t rise up the priority list until we’re impacted personally” like when we see that someone is using our credit card fraudulently, says Schulz.
But Schulz cautions that inaction could be costly. “Once there is a breach, you can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube,” he says. “You need to protect yourself.” So what should you do to protect yourself, if you’re one of the millions who hasn’t checked their credit recently?
Check your credit reports ASAP. As we reported when the Equifax breach happened, “you’re allowed a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) every year at Annualcreditreport.com.” Check for anything on your report — like accounts using your name that you didn’t open — that you didn’t authorize. Make sure to check your credit reports at least once a year going forward.
Report credit report errors. Should you find an error, contact the relevant credit bureau immediately; there are guidelines on each of their websites for how to get unauthorized items removed from your report. “There are going to be hoops to jump through, you’ll probably have to have paperwork lined up and will have to make more phone calls and emails than you’d like,” Schulz says. Still, it’s essential to get these items removed as they can hurt your credit score — which will mean you might be unable to qualify for loans and credit in the future.
Get free monthly alerts about your credit score. A number of companies — including WalletHub, CreditKarma, CreditCards.com and sometimes credit card companies themselves — will send you free notifications when there’s been a change in your credit score. Sign up for these services and if you see a dip in your score, investigate what has happened.
Check your bank and credit card accounts weekly. Schulz says that it’s key you look at these accounts at least weekly to make sure there are no unauthorized charges on them. “Look for charges you don’t recognize. It doesn’t have to be for $500. Oftentimes these bad guys use your credit card to buy something for $1,” says Schulz.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved