One hundred and forty-five million Americans learned last fall that their data had been exposed to hackers, thanks to a data breach at the crediting agency Equifax. Now the deadline is coming up for a free credit freeze from the company, but there's one problem: A credit freeze isn't likely to stop the vast majority of identity thieves.
Writing for Business Insider, financial planner Lauren Lyons Cole points out that just 4 percent of identity theft victims have a new account opened in their name, which is what a credit freeze aims to stop. In fact, she continues, there have been so many gigantic data breaches and leaks that it's likely your information is already out there. Before you let that keep you up at night, this might actually be good news.
If your financial and identifying data has been compromised because of a leak at Equifax, or Target, or whatever further high-profile breaches we'll find out about next, institutions can identify the source of your lost information — and thus can hold that company responsible, rather than you. Your credit may be easier to rescue if it's come under attack from the outside, and Lyons Cole, as a financial planner, says that rehabilitating your credit score is more often a matter of persistent communication and documentation than anything else.
Finally, identity thieves have a type. Victims tend to have an income greater than $75,000 per year, and they're more likely to be white or multiracial. It's a harrowing experience no matter what, but it's far from the end of your financial wellbeing. There are lots of ways to protect yourself, and even in the event of theft, in this age of big breaches, companies may have even more ways to help you than before.