There are 2 free ways to safeguard your identity after a massive data breach like Capital One's: freeze your credit or set up a fraud alert

Hero Images/GettyIf you think your information has been stolen, you can either set up a fraud alert or freeze your credit.
  • Capital One reported that it was hit with a data breach in late March affecting an estimated 100 million users in the US.
  • The breach compromised approximately 140,000 customers’Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers.
  • If you think you may have been affected, you have two options to protect against future fraud: set up a fraud alert or freeze your credit.
  • Both options are free and will not affect your credit score, but you should still check each of your accounts and contact the bank or credit-card company to report misuse on existing accounts.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Capital One revealed on Monday that approximately 100 million customers in the US and six million in Canada were affected by a data breach.

The breach occurred over two days in March 2019 and compromised consumers and small businesses that applied for credit cards between 2005 and early 2019. Capital One said no credit card account numbers or log-in credentials were compromised, though about 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers were revealed, in addition to some customers’ personal information, like birthdates and addresses, and credit scores, credit limits, balances, payment history, and contact information.

Keeping our money online is convenient and easy, except in instances like this. But you still shouldn’t freak out. If you suspect you may have been affected, you have two options: set up a fraud alert or freeze your credit.

“A credit freeze locks down your credit. A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report as long as they take steps to verify your identity,” explains the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

How to set up a fraud alert vs. a credit freeze

How to set up a fraud alert

The easier option is to set up a fraud alert. It’s free, lasts for one year, and can be set up by calling just one of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The bureau you call must tell the other two about your fraud alert. The alert will show up on your credit report and requires a lender or business to verify your identity before it issues credit. This will prevent the future opening of fraudulent accounts under your name.

Here are the numbers for each of the credit bureaus:

How to set up a credit freeze

The other option to protect against new accounts being opened in your name is to request a credit freeze, which is also free. A credit freeze basically restricts lenders’ access to your credit report indefinitely, explains the FTC. If someone got ahold of your personal information and has opened a new account in your name, this will prevent them from doing so again.

If there’s an account on your credit report that you did not open, you may consider requesting a credit freeze so that you have a chance to file a dispute with the credit-card company or bank, remove any fraudulent accounts, and change your passwords without worrying about additional threats.

When you freeze your credit, your credit score won’t be affected and you can still take out new credit yourself and get your free annual credit reports, but the process is more tedious than setting up a fraud alert.

In order to freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus separately and provide your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and other personal information. Each bureau will issue a unique PIN number or password that you need to hold onto and use to permanently or temporarily lift the credit freeze.

Neither fraud alert nor freeze can fix identity theft that’s already happened

It’s important to note that neither a credit freeze nor a fraud alert will fix fraud that has already been committed on your existing accounts. The vast majority of identity theft victims – 86% in 2014 – have problems with a current account, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data, such as withdrawals from a bank account, or charges or debts owed on a credit card. It’s your responsibility to contact your bank and file a dispute, and they will report it to the credit bureaus.

If you do find that someone has access to your accounts, the FTC recommends reporting it to them, as they can help you file an identity theft report, which will allow you to file an extended fraud alert; help you access documents; stop debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts; and help get fraudulent information removed from your account. You can go to the FTC’s fraud reporting page online, or call 1-877-438-4338.

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