Dear Ms. MoneyPeace:
My 20-year-old daughter received a scam call in which the person on the other end of the line pretended to be from the Social Security Administration. She was asked to confirm her Social Security number by giving the last four digits, which she did. She had just woken up and her brain was not yet in full gear.
My daughter immediately realized her error and called me in a panic. She contacted her bank and added a phone password to her account. The bank also placed an alert on her account.
What other steps should she take?
Sincerely, Carrie with a Credit-Breached College Student
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Dear Carrie: What an unfortunate wakeup call for your daughter — and a great learning opportunity for everyone else to be careful with phone calls!
I commend your daughter on immediately notifying the bank, yet there is more to do. With her Social Security number out there in the world — even just the last four digits — this is an open door to fraud. The time is now to start managing and understanding her credit information.
Any time personal data has been stolen, you can be affected for a lifetime. This problem will not go away. Why? Because your name, date of birth and Social Security number don’t change. That information will be out for hackers to use. As the 2017 Equifax breach demonstrates, every company and every person is at risk.
Although most college students do not have much income, there are student loans, credit cards and an apartment lease that may reflect a credit history. Your daughter must maintain her diligence in the future, as we all need to do. Financial predators often lie low and use the information later. Or sell it on the dark web.
I recommend she freeze her credit reports, which means no one — no person or institution — can request her financial credit information from credit report agencies. This will stop anyone from opening new bank accounts or taking out loans or credit unless the information is released by her. If she doesn’t need credit, this is a blanket way to protect her personal information.
When she is applying for credit — buying a car or requesting a loan, for instance — she will need to temporarily lift or permanently remove her security freeze to allow for a credit check. Reversing a freeze is as easy as using a pin code.
Aside from your daughter, this is what everybody needs to do:
Step one: Check credit reports at least once a year. Credit reports are not your credit score. This report contains all your historical credit information on which your credit score is based. Go to this site for free credit reports.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus.
- Review each credit report.
- Notify credit agencies if anything is incorrect. (You would be surprised to know that information can be interchanged because of similar names or data error.)
Step two: Freeze your credit reports. This same site will walk you and your daughter through placing a credit freeze on your information.
Credit report lock or credit lock: This results in a similar outcome as a credit freeze. Credit report locks are mobile app-enabled and allow you to lock and unlock your credit reports using identity verification techniques such as usernames, passwords and touch or face ID technology. You must lock your credit reports separately at each nationwide credit bureau.
A credit report lock generally prevents access to your credit reports to open new credit accounts. If you want to apply for credit, you must unlock your credit report to allow a credit check.
Fraud alert: This is a notice that is placed on your credit reports that alerts credit card companies and others who may extend you credit that you may have been a victim of fraud, including identity theft. Think of it as a “red flag” that makes companies take steps to verify your identity before extending credit in your name.
Though each agency is responsible to contact the other two with a fraud alert, manage your own credit information by contacting each to be sure. You may contact any of the three nationwide credit bureaus to request a fraud alert.
Credit monitoring: Paying for credit monitoring — which notifies you if there has been a request for credit in your name — helps prevent fraud. However, you pay for this convenience. The $20 a month can add up to over $240 a year for something you can do yourself.
With credit locks, fraud alerts and freezes, there are exceptions on who can still access your credit information, such as government agencies and companies you currently have a relationship with.
- No one over age 18 is too young or too old to take these steps.
- Your credit report is different from your credit score.
- You need to keep vigilant to illicit phone calls, emails and mailings.
- Call or go on-line now. Your information is too valuable to wait.
CD Moriarty is a certified financial planner, a columnist for MarketWatch and a personal-finance speaker. She blogs at MoneyPeace.