It’s easy to think that the recent personal data thefts at Target are an anomaly but the truth is: they aren’t. Massive data theft and hacking happens all the time. Apple is under fire for (allegedly) illegally collecting and selling customers’ personal information. Every day it seems like some new company—one most of us take for granted as being safe—gets hacked and we have to worry all over again that our credit and identities are going to be compromised.
Between these hacks and the ringing in of tax season, there is no time like the present to learn how to track and manage your credit (and repair it if it gets damaged).
If you’ve shopped at Target you’ve probably already done some ground work like canceling your debit card or credit card and ordering a new one. You’re likely watching your bank account (and credit card statement) like a hawk, ready to jump on the phone as soon as something strange pops up. Those are both good ways to approach identity and credit protection. Another thing that you can (and should) do is set up a fraud alert with all of the credit reporting agencies.
If You Get “Hit” By the Bad Guys
If identity thieves do manage to hack in and destroy your credit, don’t panic. If you’ve been monitoring your credit, hopefully you’ll be able to catch the problem before it gets too far out of control. Report the problem immediately. The FTC has created a fantastic guide to reporting and fixing identity theft when it happens. Follow their directions to the letter.
Finally: Repairing What’s Broken
Another side effect of these security breaches and the constant threat of identity theft is that more and more people are taking charge of their own credit. The good news is that credit is a living thing and even if you’ve got terrible credit now, if you take the proper steps to get back on track, eventually you won’t have to worry about a faulty history keeping you down (and ineligible for things like loans, etc).
One tactic that many people use to get their credit back on track is to work with a credit repair agency. A credit repair agency takes on all of the work of getting your credit under control and moving in a positive direction. Typically what you do is pay the agency a fee each month and then they pay your bills for you (as well as fixing errors on your reports, reducing the amount you owe, etc). It reduces the number of debts and details you have to track.
It is important, though, that if you choose to go this route (as opposed to repairing your credit all by yourself), you work with the right company. Here is how to do that:
· Check the reviews. Lexington Law, for example, has fantastic reviews (both on its own site and via independent portals like HuffPo and others). Whatever company you choose, make sure you’re checking for independent reviews as well as reading testimonial pages.
· Check with the BBB. Make sure the company you want to work with isn’t facing any major complaints.
· Beware outrageous claims. There are some things that a credit repair agency simply can’t do, like erase the negative but still accurate information from your report (they can only correct inaccurate information).
Remember: protecting your identity and credit is something that takes constant vigilance. Watch your accounts carefully. Make sure you know how to report and prevent fraud. Good luck!