Many of us college students have only just started taking control of our finances. It’s no easy task for anybody, but for students trying to manage debt while as they put themselves through their education is even harder. Because of this, it can be easy to forget about larger concerns and even become naive about them.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Equifax — one of the largest major consumer credit reporting agencies — had been the victim of a data breach which included the sensitive information of 143 million Americans. In short, if you have a credit score, there’s higher than a 50 percent chance you are one of them.
Typically, when something like this happens, we have the tendency to ignore it thinking it doesn’t affect us — that this is something that will affect people who have 401(K) plans, mortgages, and other grown up stuff. However, the Equifax breach is different and can affect anyone of us.
Putting aside the intense criticism which could be given to Equifax for allowing this to happen, students, staff and faculty need to take responsibility in protecting our finances and identity. It can be easy to become lazy and assume that you will not be affected, but the consequences of identity theft are too harmful to ignore.
According to the New York Times, there are four steps you should take to help protect yourself. First, you should set up fraud alerts with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — the major credit reporting agencies — so you will be informed if anyone applies for credit under your name.
Second, you should look into possibly putting a freeze on your credit. This would simply prevent any companies which do not already have access to your files from getting to them. If an identity thief tries to set up credit in your name, the company they are using would not be able to access your files.
Third, you really need to check your credit report. This is something you should do even without the Equifax breach. You can go to annualcreditreport.com to get one free report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. It only takes a few minutes to fill out your information and get a report.
Finally, you might want to take advantage of the free year of credit monitoring which Equifax is now offering. There is controversy over fine print in the agreement to take advantage of the offer which could have prevented you from being involved in a lawsuit against Equifax. However, the company later changed the policy so this would not happen.
We all need to take the fact that our identities are vulnerable to heart and begin working to protect ourselves. Nobody wants to be the victim of identity theft, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re not.