How to monitor and protect your personal information

It’s important in today’s environment of information freedom that you monitor and protect your personal information. As we’ve experienced with all of the data breaches, it is a sound premise to assume that some or all of your personal information has been hacked. Since 2005, there have been 8,804 data breaches totaling 11,575,804,706 records breached according to the Privacy Rights Clearing House and these are just the ones that are public.

And if your information has not yet been hacked, it is probably only a matter of time. While this may sound like doom and gloom, it is reality.  Knowing this, you can be prepared by regularly monitoring the information that’s out there and being aware. This is no different than how you would maintain awareness of your surroundings in a parking lot at night. 

There are numerous credit reporting agencies that collect information about all aspects of your life. The most well known are the credit information bureaus, however, there are many others that monitor your medical history, insurance claims, rental history, utilities, gaming, employment history and more. 

You should check these reports annually to ensure they are accurate and to spot any unauthorized activity.  By law, you are eligible to receive these reports annually at no cost to you, upon request.

You’ll want to start with credit reports.  Credit reports are compiled by credit reporting agencies, which are companies that collect information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, and whether or not you have been sued, arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. These companies sell your credit report to creditors, employers, insurers, and others. These companies will use these reports to make decisions about extending credit, jobs, and insurance policies to you.

Here’s how to order your credit reports: 

You are entitled to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com (or by calling (877) 322-8228). This website is the only one that is government authorized to provide you with free copies of your credit report. 

Beware: There are many sites with similar URLs that will either attempt to charge you or steal your personal information.

You can also contact the credit agencies directly if you need to dispute information in your report, place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit file, or if you have other questions:

  • Equifax (www.equifax.com or (866) 349-5191)
  • Experian (www.experian.com or (888) 397-3742)
  • TransUnion (www.transunion.com or (800) 916-8800

Navigating Your Credit Report:

Next, you will need to navigate your credit report. You can download the Credit Report Monitoring Worksheet from GET READY! On my website (here). The worksheet will to guide you through the process of reviewing your credit report. In the columns following, add “Yes” if that section is correct or “No” if there is an error. See the Note below the table for guidance on dealing with errors found in your credit reports.

When you receive the reports,  You should check all of these reports annually to ensure they are accurate and to spot any unauthorized activity. You’ll also want to make sure that all accounts and other information listed for you on these reports is accurate and complete. Be sure to also review account status reporting, as status and dates can be incorrect, or debts can be listed twice.

You are probably the only person who can verify the accuracy of these reports. If you find something wrong with your credit report, you can file your dispute online at each credit reporting agency’s website. Explain what you think is wrong and why, along with any documentation to support your case. There may be certain circumstances in which creditors and furnishing institutions are not required to investigate, but it is always worth pursuing.

Going beyond credit reports: Consumer Reporting Agencies: 

As mentioned earlier there are many entities tracking and compiling information on you. While that may sound paranoid, it is the reality we all live in. Along with Facebook and Google, there are many specialty consumer-reporting companies that collect and share information about your employment history, transaction history with a business, or your repayment history for a specific product or service. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies.

Here are four reports that you should consider requesting each year, in addition to your annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus:

    • LexisNexis. They compile information to create consumer reports. This includes items such as real estate transactions and ownership data; lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records; professional license information; and historical addresses on file. Request your report (https://personalreports.lexisnexis.com).
    • C.L.U.E. Report. Also, from LexisNexis: This includes information on insurance claims histories for auto insurance and homeowners insurance. Request your report (https://personalreports.lexisnexis.com/fact_act_disclosure.jsp).
    • Medical Information Bureau (MIB). You will have an MIB file if you have applied for individual life insurance, disability insurance, or health insurance in the last seven years. MIB records contain coded information identifying any medical conditions or medical tests reported by other MIB members regarding that applicant. It does not have actual “reports” or “medical records” on file. There are also a few codes that identify dangerous hobbies, or a driving record showing bad driving history. Request your report (https://www.mib.com/request_your_record.html).
    • The Work Number. Also from Equifax, this report compiles employment and income information. It is used by lenders, property managers, pre-employment screeners, social service agencies, and others who need to verify someone’s employment status and sometimes his or her income as well. Request your report (www.theworknumber.com).

Next steps: If you plan to order these reports annually, you should also add the specific report names to your financial calendar (download the Financial Calendar from GET READY!)

Related articles:

Amazon: What Amazon knows about you. Amazon & Alexa: They hear your every word and may be recording. See: Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa

Google: What Google Knows About You. 

Facebook: What Facebook knows about you.  540 Million Facebook Records Left Exposed. Researchers discovered likes, comments, and IDs from Facebook users unprotected on the internet. 

Internet people finders: What Internet people finders know about you.

Emails and Website Domains: Check to see if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach: Have I been pawned?

Identity Theft Services: With identity theft becoming a more common issue, a number of companies have started to offer services that claim to offer protection.  It’s important to understand What Identity Theft Services Can and Can’t Do for You. Carrie Kerskie, CEO of the identity theft firm, Griffon Force says “They’re referred to as identity theft protection services, but there’s no such thing—it doesn’t exist.No one can protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft.” What the services can do is help you recover.  

If your identity has been stolen: Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identitytheft.gov website to report identity theft and get a recovery plan. The website includes what to do right away, what to do next, other possible steps and steps for specific types of accounts such as utilities and loans along with special forms of identity theft. 

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