Free, Reliable Tools to Help You Protect Yourself From Identity Thieves
A QUICK CHECK: HAS YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION BEEN COMPROMISED?
If you want to run a quick search to determine whether your data has been compromised in a breach, you can do so at haveibeenpwned.com. Simply go to the site, enter your email address, and click the “pwned?” button. You will not be required to sign up for anything.
When the search is complete, any breaches involving your email address and possibly other personal data can be reviewed by scrolling through the results. The information provided will include breach dates, names of the entities involved, and the types of data exposed.
Some of the breaches listed may be years old. You may also see names of breached entities you do not recognize but that apparently had your data on file. This could be because your information was, at one time or another, provided to these organizations as a result of your use of other sites or applications. This is an excellent example of why you should read the terms and conditions when you use websites or download applications that require you to provide your email address and other personal data. The terms and conditions agreement is where you will find information about what is being collected and how it will be shared. If your data is being shared or sold, it could end up being compromised in a hack of a company with which you have never done business.
If this search reveals that any of your current accounts have been compromised, make sure you change the passwords associated with the accounts as soon as possible. If you no longer use the accounts listed, be sure to close those accounts immediately.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PASSWORDS?
You can also check to find out whether your passwords have been compromised by going to haveibeenpwned.com/Passwords. At last check, this site had records of over 613 million passwords that have been exposed in data breaches. Just enter a password and click the “pwned?” button. The search will let you know whether that password has been compromised. You can check all of your passwords here. You’ll also see additional tips to help you better secure your online accounts. If a password you checked was exposed in a breach, you should change it immediately in any accounts where it is used. Just for fun, and to emphasize why you should use unique, strong passwords, try checking “Password123” on this site.
USING GOOGLE’S PASSWORD CHECKUP TOOL
If you have a Google account and if you allow Google to store passwords for other accounts, you can use the Google Password Checkup tool to determine whether your stored passwords have been exposed in a breach, whether you are using unique passwords for each of your accounts, and whether your passwords are sufficiently strong. You’ll need to go to Google’s Password Manager site at passwords.google.com/intro and sign in. Once in the Password Manager, you will see a list of sites and applications for which you have allowed Google to store passwords. Click the link to go to the Password Checkup tool and go through the identity verification process. When you’re done, you will see information about which, if any, of your stored passwords have been compromised, which passwords you have used for more than one account, and which of your passwords may be too weak. The tool will provide tips for resolving any issues detected.
SIGN UP FOR MOZILLA FIREFOX ALERTS
You can set up monitoring tools to receive notifications regarding future incidents that may expose your email address and other personal information to hackers. Mozilla, the creator of the Firefox browser, offers a free monitoring service available through monitor.firefox.com. When you sign up, you’ll be required to create a Firefox account if you don’t have one already. You will need to enter your email address, click the “stay safe” option to receive alerts regarding future breaches, and click the “Check for Breaches” button. You will be taken to a page to either log into your existing Firefox account or create a new one. There, you can select an option to receive alerts to help you stay safe online. You can also take advantage of additional options and security tips available. Additionally, this tool allows you to include other email addresses to monitor if you wish to do so.
When you sign up for the Firefox monitoring service, you should see a list of breaches previously revealed by your search on haveibeenpwned.com if you also used that tool. This will either serve as confirmation that these are the only breaches known to have included your data or will provide you with information regarding additional events. Double-checking never hurts.
FREE CREDIT REPORTS AND MONITORING
Running a search for “free credit report” will produce a long list of sources from which you can get free copies of your credit reports. You can obtain them directly from the three reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Also, companies, including Experian and Credit Karma, offer free monitoring services that will alert you when changes to your credit reports occur. These changes could indicate fraudulent activities, like a hacker using your personal information to apply for credit in your name, so it’s a good idea to review your credit reports regularly and sign up for a monitoring service.
If you are notified of suspicious credit activity by your monitoring service or notice something irregular when reviewing your reports, immediately putting a freeze on your credit could prevent you from becoming a victim and suffering significant financial loss. To apply a freeze, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies directly. You can do so online or by telephone. In North America, call Equifax at 800-349-9960, Experian at 888-397-3742, and TransUnion at 888-909-8872. You will be asked to provide information to confirm your identity. Once the freeze is applied, no one can create new accounts in your name unless you remove the freeze. If you need to apply for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze and reapply it later. Once the issue of concern is resolved, you can lift the freeze and leave it off indefinitely, until or unless another potential problem arises.
Using these free tools, you can take steps to better protect yourself from hackers and identity thieves, but you’ll need to stay vigilant. Check for breaches and review your credit reports periodically. Use strong passwords and use a different one for each account. Consider using a password manager application, so you don’t have to worry about remembering all of your passwords. Follow the tips offered in these tools for applying additional security to your online accounts, like using two-factor authentication wherever available. Also, bear in mind that no guarantee comes with these free tools. If you want additional protection, you may wish to consider purchasing an identity theft protection policy that covers financial losses you may incur due to identity theft.