If you use the internet, your data is under constant threat of being stolen. According to a recent analysis from the Identity Theft Resource Center, roughly 820 incidents of large and small data breaches have been reported so far this year. Even so, the constant threat doesn’t mean you need to pay for a credit-monitoring service.
In early April, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued credit bureau TransUnion for violating a 2017 order to stop deceiving customers into signing up for a subscription to various services that include credit reports, credit scores and credit monitoring. TransUnion implied the services were free, but after a trial period, the credit bureau started charging for them. The CFPB is seeking financial restitution for the affected customers.
Overall, the lawsuit is a good reminder that no one should be paying for credit-monitoring services, says Brian Krebs, founder of Krebsonsecurity.com, a cybersecurity news website. You don’t have to look far to find a free service. For example, some of the 147 million victims of the 2017 Equifax data breach filed a claim for credit monitoring in January 2020. They should have received instructions on how to sign up for daily three-bureau monitoring with Experian IdentityWorks.
If you aren’t taking advantage of that, you can sign up for Capital One’s CreditWise or Chase’s Credit Journey credit score and monitoring services. Both services are free, whether or not you are a customer. Each service tracks your Social Security number, scans the dark web, and sends alerts on new credit inquires or new account openings. Plus, they have simulators that can show you how increasing your credit usage could affect your credit score. Credit Karma also monitors your Equifax and Trans-Union credit reports for free and gives you access to free credit scores from Equifax and TransUnion.
But don’t let a free monitoring service do all the work for you. You still need to check your credit reports frequently for errors and fix any errors you notice. For example, you need to double check that your name and addresses are correct as well as your lender information and payment history. Go to annualcreditreport.com to download your reports. You can access your credit reports for free every week, now that a pandemic-era program has been made permanent.
Rivan joined Kiplinger on Leap Day 2016 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. A Michigan native, she graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 and from there freelanced as a local copy editor and proofreader, and served as a research assistant to a local Detroit journalist. Her work has been featured in the Ann Arbor Observer and Sage Business Researcher. She is currently assistant editor, personal finance at The Washington Post.