With recent data breaches at Equifax and elsewhere, card issuers offer options that can help guard against errors and fraud
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As recently as a few years ago, when faced with news of hackers accessing personal information from a company, many people could figure out if their data was affected simply by recalling if they had shopped at that store.
Today, though, the pace of data breaches has accelerated so much that it is probably safe to assume that at least some of your personal financial information is available to crooks in dark corners of the Internet. The list of incidents from just 2017 includes hotels, restaurant chains, health care providers, retailers, universities and, most recently and depressingly, Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies. Because Equifax traffics in personal financial information, hackers likely gained access to the full names, Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth and credit card numbers of more than 145.5 million people.
More on the Equifax data breach:
Since that security breach was disclosed in September, there have been plenty of articles on what consumers should do to protect themselves. Most of the advice centers on paying close attention to your credit reports and financial accounts, and perhaps freezing access to your credit reports to prevent criminals from opening new accounts in your name.
Have you checked your credit report lately?
People might be surprised to learn that their existing credit card accounts can actually help them keep tabs on their credit. In the past few years, card issuers have made more tools available to customers so they can view their credit scores or even their credit reports. In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau urged card companies to make credit scores and related information freely available.
That effort helps address the main problems with regularly checking a credit report: It can be costly or cumbersome. The CFPB says that only one in five people check their credit report in any given year. Reviewing the report for errors has always been wise, but it has taken on greater urgency with the raft of data breaches. Credit reports are available for free once per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com. You can also get your credit score, credit report and credit monitoring for free at CreditCards.com. Companies also sell services that give you more-frequent access.
How your credit card can help
But now, credit card companies are making available at least some of that information easily and for free. In many instances, they provide a credit score from one of the three bureaus, not a full report. Bank of America, Discover, Capital One, Chase, Barclaycard, Citi and American Express each offer some credit information on at least some of their cards.
With just the credit score, consumers can at least monitor changes in the scores month-to-month to see if there are any big, unwarranted drops that merit further investigation.
Two card issuers, Capital One and Discover, offer free credit scores and credit monitoring to the public. You don’t have to be a cardholder. Capital One’s CreditWise, for instance, provides you with summaries of your TransUnion credit report (for free) to review for errors or fraud. You can see just about all the information that is on an actual credit report: inquiries, accounts, personal information, as well as your VantageScore credit score (with historical data). With Discover Scorecard, you get your FICO score, and the scorecard includes the number of inquiries and missed payments.
While the Discover Scorecard is available to anyone, in July, Discover rolled out a free service to alert card members if their Social Security numbers are found on risky websites. “Sign-ups for our new Social Security number alerts more than doubled in the 48 hours after the announcement of the Equifax data breach,” Laks Vasudevan, vice president of products and innovation at Discover, said. “We continue to see an increasing number of Discover card members taking advantage of this free offering,”
Using your credit card accounts to monitor your credit report or credit score does not fully remedy the potential damage from data breaches, since you will still need to monitor your accounts for suspicious charges. And it doesn’t replace real-time alerts of unusual activity or examining your full credit report for errors. But any tool that helps you keep tabs on the way credit bureaus are reporting your credit is a welcome addition.