We previously covered the importance of protecting yourself and your business from identity theft but, due to the recent Equifax® data breach, it's important to reiterate what steps you can take when your personal information may already be in the hands of hackers.
Access to credit and financing is crucial for any business. Without the ability to supplement cash flow or acquire new technology and equipment, many companies would see their growth severely impacted. And with personal credit profiles continuing to be a factor for many small business financing transactions, business owners are asking: What actions can I take to protect my credit?
Each of the three major credit reporting bureaus allow you to put a freeze on your credit profile. This restricts access to your credit profile and in turn can protect you from having fraudulent accounts opened in your name. Most creditors will need to run a credit check before approving a new account, but with a freeze on your credit profile they will not be able to do so. When you have a legitimate need to have a creditor access your profile, the freeze can be temporarily lifted.
To start the process, contact each of the credit bureaus:
Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
Experian — 1-888‑397‑3742
TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
If you haven't already, get a current copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus. You can do this for free through sites like annualcreditreport.com. If you see accounts or activity that aren't familiar to you, this could be identity theft and should be researched.
You can receive a free copy of your report each year, so make sure you take advantage of that option. Some advisors suggest spacing the reviews throughout the year. For example, pull one report during first quarter, pull another during second quarter and the last bureau third or fourth quarter. This will give you purview to activity throughout the year, free of charge.
The credit freeze process mentioned above only protects against creation of new accounts, but does not protect against charges to existing accounts. It's important that you keep close tabs on all of your credit cards, bank accounts, insurance and utilities to ensure that no fraudulent charges or claims are being made to your existing accounts.
For some a credit freeze is not a viable option, whether you're in the middle of important financial transactions, or need quick access to cash in regular intervals. When a credit freeze doesn't make sense, you'll want to consider setting up fraud alerts on your credit profiles. This alerts creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft and adds additional measures that creditors must take to prove your identity before approving new credit accounts.
Filing fraudulent tax returns is one of the many ways hackers take advantage of breached data. Gather the necessary information and file your personal and business taxes as soon as possible for each tax period, whether annual or quarterly, to prevent a data thief from filing before you.
Above are just five key ways to protect your identity and personal information, but there are many more steps you can take depending on your individual situation.
For more tips and information on how to protect yourself from identity theft, visit https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft.
For more information about the Equifax data breach and to see if your data was impacted, visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/. Please note: when this site first launched, agreeing to Equifax's offer for one free year of credit monitoring prevented you from joining any class-action lawsuits pertaining to this data breach. There is word that this has changed, but be sure to review the terms carefully before using this site to check your impact.