4 ways to fight identity theft, secure your accounts and protect your credit

One year ago, Equifax announced a stunning data breach affecting 147 million people. Since then, the vast majority of Americans have taken some sort of action, and according to CompareCards.

A new survey shows that 9 out of 10 people said they've done something in the last year to protect themselves, whether that's checking their credit score, looking at their online statements more often, checking their credit reports, or setting up an alert to know when a charge hits their credit cards, according to Matt Schulz, the chief industry analyst with CompareCards.

As shocking as it was to hear that a credit bureau got hacked, these big breaches are unfortunately becoming a way of life. So many data breaches have happened, including big ones at Target, Equifax, and Home Depot, that Schulz says this news has become white noise for a lot of people, and the next data breach might not feel as significant or meaningful as the last one.

But, he says, it is important to keep checking your accounts. The quickest and the easiest thing people can do to protect themselves from identity theft is to check their bank and credit card statements online more often, Schulz says.

Also, take it a step further and check your credit report. Only a third of people have checked their credit report in the last year, according to CompareCards. Schulz wishes that number was twice as high because the key to finding a lot of things that thieves do with your credit information lies in your credit report.

Don't worry about hurting your credit score. A lot of people think checking their own credit report or score will ding their credit but Schulz calls that the "cockroach of personal finance myths." It just won't die.

The truth, he says, is that checking your own credit information doesn't hurt your score. In fact, it's the single best way to figure out what you need to do to improve your credit and move from a 650 to a 750.

Ideally, you should check your credit report every quarter, each time with a different one of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. Each one of them will give you one free credit report each year as required by federal law.

The easiest way to do that is to go to annualcreditreport.com, which is the only site authorized by the government to give you those reports.

Then once a year, order your credit score. That number is not included in your credit report. You have to pay to get that. Getting your FICO score once costs about $20. However, many banks and credit cards now show you your FICO score for free.


1. Check your bank and credit card online statements often

2. Set up bank withdrawal and credit card charge alerts

3. Check your credit report every quarter (rotating through the three reporting agencies)

4. Check your FICO credit score once a year