As you probably already know, the recent data breach of the credit bureau Equifax has exposed the personal information of over 143 million Americans.1 Likely to be included in that group is a surprising number of college students.
According to Majoring in Money, a recent study from Sallie Mae, a majority of college students (56%) have at least one credit card. And most of those students (60%) say their primary reason for getting a credit card was to begin building a credit history.
That’s a smart move – especially since nearly two-thirds (63%) say they pay their balance in full every month; with nearly three-fourths (73%) saying they’re doing it without any help from a parent.
Another smart move is to take a few minutes now to help protect yourself against the possible impacts of the Equifax hack. The fraudulent use of your credit history can quickly undo the solid work you are doing to build a strong financial foundation.
Here’s what the experts are recommending
Review your credit reports
By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 main bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.) To request your reports go directly to AnnualCreditReport.com (recommended by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Better Business Bureau) And beware: Companies or websites that charge you to get a copy of your credit report are often just looking to separate you from your money, and even “free” credit report services should be viewed with some skepticism because, as the popular personal finance blog The Balance notes, “Free credit report scams are tricky and misleading. If you’re not careful, you could end up paying a hundred dollars more for your free credit report.” 2
Freeze your credit
This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use your credit cards. It means that nobody else will be able to open a credit card or other account in your name. When you freeze your credit, a secure PIN is required for anyone (even you) to gain access to your credit file.
You can request the freeze on each company’s website, or you can call the following numbers and go through the automated process (probably best to do it from a landline, if possible, for added security.)
Set up a fraud alert
In this case, you only need to contact one of the bureaus. When a fraud alert is in place, credit card companies and other lenders are required to verify your identity before proceeding. The bureaus allow you to set up a temporary alert lasting 90 days, but you have the opportunity to renew it after that. To set up your alert, call one of the following:
Be particularly attuned to phone scams and phishing emails. And, if you do file a tax return, try to file one as early as you can. Identity thieves sometimes use your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return in order to collect your refund and get even greater access to your personal information. See what the IRS has to say about avoiding tax-related identity theft.