About a month ago, my personal email account got hacked. You probably know what I’m talking about – some trickster figured out my password, broke into my account, and sent a weird message to nearly everyone I’ve had email contact with. Normally, this would be more of a nuisance than anything else; I’d have to send out a mass email apologizing for the previous email and change my password to something more secure, but then I’d be able to move on relatively unscathed. And at first, this is just what I did, and I forgot about the hacking for a couple of days.
But then I started to get a little nervous. I went back through a bunch of old emails and realized that, because I had just recently gone through the home-buying process and had done a lot of paperwork with my agent and broker via email, my social security number was contained in a lot of emails. Like, a whole lot.
Initially, I panicked a little. How could I be sure that the hacker didn’t read my emails and get my social security number? Although the risk was minimal, I didn’t want to take any chances, especially because my home loan wasn’t finalized yet. So I immediately began to do some Internet research about setting up some way to secure my social security number from scammers with bad intentions.
Initially, all I was able to find in terms of social security security were sites for the numerous companies out there who charge a monthly fee for credit monitoring. While this would probably have been effective, I wasn’t interested in shelling out money every month to detect a threat that may or may not have really been out there. Discouraged but not deterred, I kept looking, and eventually struck gold.
My more refined search turned up a really good free service that I didn’t know was out there: fraud alert, which is offered by the credit monitoring agency Experian. If you set up fraud alert for your social security number, anyone who tries to use it (whether you or an Internet infidel) will have to go through a number of additional steps to verify their identity before they’re able to take out a loan, set up utilities, etc. This added step will filter out the bad guys if they try to use your social security number for nefarious purposes. Better still, when you set up fraud alert with Experian, that company automatically notifies the other two credit monitoring bureaus that you’d like the extra protection. Also, fraud alert is good for three months, after which you can choose to let it expire or set it up for another three months.
[Free Resource: Check your free credit report and score]
Quizzle also has its own Identity Theft tool available for members as well, backed with a $1 million product guarantee.
I immediately went to work setting up fraud alert on my social security number, and just as quickly felt my worries about possible identity theft slipping away. I felt better still when I had the opportunity to see the fraud alert service in action a couple weeks later when I attempted to set up electricity service at my new place. When I provided the customer service representative with my social security number, she immediately notified me that she wouldn’t be able to complete my account setup; I’d have to speak to a fraud specialist. When I eventually did, she asked me to answer a very specific set of personal questions to prove my identity before she could finish up creating my account. While this was a little bit of a hassle, it was comforting to know that setting up the fraud alert had worked; if an email hacker did skim my social security number from my email, she’d have a tough time using it.
Having your social security number exposed in one way or another isn’t the end of the world; with a few simple steps, it’s easy to set up some extra security. After all, getting hacked is bad enough – don’t get ripped off, too!