DARK WEB MONITORING

Dark Web Monitoring – Is It Worth The Cost?

Consumers are coughing up anywhere from $10 to $30 per month for identity theft protection. Credit monitoring companies usually include dark web monitoring to their list of services. But is dark web monitoring really worth its salt? Consumers are under the false assumption that they can rely on these credit monitoring companies to keep them protected. THEY CAN’T!

Results of a recent survey by Consumer Federation of America (CFA)

~ 36% of those who’d seen ads for dark web monitoring incorrectly believed identity theft services can remove their personal info from the dark web.

~ 37% mistakenly believe dark web monitoring services will prevent stolen information, sold on the dark web, from being used.

Dark Web Monitoring

What is the Dark Web?

It is the go-to place on the internet where criminals buy and sell stolen personal information. Well known, commonly used internet browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox or Mozilla won’t get you there. You need a special browser such as Tor. Most of this stolen information is gleaned from criminals that hack into compromised businesses and personal computers. Here’s what these nefarious actors are after: social security numbers, credit card info, usernames & passwords, bank account info, medical info, birth dates, email addresses, names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., etc.

REALITY CHECK!

No one can erase any of the stolen data that ends up on the dark web. No one can prevent your stolen data from being sold or used. Therefore, credit monitoring companies are only able to ‘alert’ you (after the fact) once they discover that your personal info is up for sale on the dark web.

If you’re wondering whether or not your personal info is on the dark web, the answer is YES, of course it is. You don’t need to pay a credit monitoring service to learn that! Hackers stole nearly a half a billion records in 2018 alone!

The Equifax data breach exposed the social security numbers, birth dates and other personal info of 148 million Americans. About 6.4 million records are reported stolen every day. If you’re still not convinced, and want to see the raw data, go here for real time data breach statistics.

Odds are very high that your info has already been bought and sold to numerous criminals on the dark web. You can’t change your social security number or date of birth. With so much of everyone’s info already compromised, individuals must do everything they can to make it more difficult for criminals to use that stolen data.

Does Dark Web Monitoring Have Any Value?

Security experts say dark web monitoring is just a scare tactic used by credit monitoring companies. Fear of the unknown motivates people. Neal O’Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council  says it’s all really “just a smoke and mirrors deal” created by credit monitoring services to justify the monthly fee. O’Farrell states “They keep adding on these extra services that are truly valueless and don’t go to the cause of the problem”.

6 Important Things To Protect Yourself

1.) Check your credit report regularly with all 3 credit bureaus. By law you are entitled to a free annual report from Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. All three companies must provide a free credit report to you, upon request. So, NO EXCUSES – It’s FREE!  Stagger your requests throughout the year by requesting one credit report from one company, three different months during the year.

2.) Place a “Freeze” on your credit file with all three credit bureaus. There is no cost to freeze your credit. So, again, no excuses! Placing a credit freeze prevents a fraudster from obtaining credit in your name. A credit freeze is much more secure than the credit monitoring packages being sold by the credit bureaus and other credit monitoring companies such as LifeLock. Also, don’t let the credit bureaus try to talk you into placing a “Credit Lock” instead of a Credit Freeze”. Credit Locks do not have the same consumer protections that a Credit Freeze provides.

3.) Use two-factor authentication as a secondary firewall to prevent criminals from impersonating you. Also referred to as “2FA” – Two-Factor Authentication is an extra layer of security that requires not only a username and password, but also something that the user has on them like an email address or a cellphone that a code can be sent to. This proves that you are who you claim to be before you can obtain full access to your account.

4.) Use stealth and long passwords (at least 12 or more characters) that are hard to crack. The best passwords are phrases mixed in with symbols, numbers and upper & lower case letters. Don’t use obvious things like, mother’s maiden name, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers or any info that can be gleaned from your social media account. NEVER use the same password for other log-ins. Why? If your password is compromised, a criminal will try using that password to log-in to other websites, like banks, PayPal, Amazon and other commonly frequented websites. Also, be sure to change passwords every so often, especially if you learn of a data breach that affects a website or an account you have with a company.

5.) Monitor your accounts whenever your bank and credit card statements arrive. Be sure to also check your Explanation of Benefits for medical services. Correct any errors you find and report any discrepancies.

6.) Keep your software updated and back up your data. Whenever there is an update available for your software programs, be sure to follow through and perform a timely update. Better yet, set your programs to update automatically. Make a habit of backing up your important files on a regular basis. Back up all files that you wouldn’t want to lose if your computer ever crashed.

There’s no 100% guarantee that following these steps will fully protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, but it will certainly lower your chances.  Awareness and constant vigilance is paramount in this game of cat and mouse.

You can read a prior article I wrote about Credit Freezes here

EQUIFAX BREACH AFTERMATH

Aftermath of the Equifax Breach    (PART TWO)

It’s barely been a year since the Equifax Breach became one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history. Equifax’s gross negligence resulted in hackers stealing the social security numbers and other sensitive information of 148 million Americans.

Equifax Breach
Guard your identity with everything you’ve got

As a result of the Equifax breach, the company offered one full year of free credit monitoring. Knowing this, criminals are just biding their time, waiting for the year to expire. They know that once the free credit monitoring expires, the public will feel safe again. They expect consumers  will become more lax about protecting and monitoring their personal information. This would be a big mistake for consumers. Since you can’t change your SS#, you must remain ever vigilant.

YOUR DATA WAS ALREADY OUT THERE!

News Flash! Although the Equifax breach was massive, much of the consumer data exposed in that breach was already available to criminals. The majority of American’s most sensitive personal data has already been compromised for several years. It is then sold on the cyber-underground to the highest bidder. If you have any doubt, realize there were 1579 separate data breaches in 2017 alone. Millions of records are exposed in those breaches.

Therefore, even if you were not a party to the Equifax breach, you need to assume that your personal info is already out there for sale. So you need to continue to protect your data for the rest of your life. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to place a freeze on your credit file.

 

EEquifax Breach Credit Freeze
Credit Freezes keep the bad guys out!

Credit Freezes – will soon be FREE

Starting September 21, 2018 you can place, temporarily lift, or remove a Credit Freeze for FREE.  Because each person has their own credit file, each individual should lock down their credit report by placing a freeze on their file.

Once the freeze is in place, only you, (the person who placed the freeze), can view your credit file. Everyone else would be locked out, unless you choose to grant them access to it. Access to your credit file is granted by either placing a temporary lift or by removing the freeze.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, all three credit bureaus must set up a web page to assist consumers with placing a credit freeze.

A WORD OF CAUTION!

Once you begin the process of freezing your credit, you may be enticed to place a Credit “Lock” instead of a Credit “Freeze”. Do NOT be fooled into placing a Credit “Lock”. These are being pushed as an alternative to a Credit “Freeze” by all 3 credit bureaus. Credit Locks do not offer the same legal protections to consumers as a Credit Freeze. So, don’t be fooled!

You should also be sure to place a credit freeze for your minor children. Child ID theft is a criminal’s dream. The theft of a child’s identity is usually not discovered until years later. By that time, the damage is done, and the thief is long gone.

Additionally, all 3 credit bureaus are now required to offer FREE electronic credit monitoring services to all active duty personnel.

CONTINUE TO MONITOR REPORTS

As a habit, consumers should obtain a free credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com  This is the only federally authorized website to get your free credit report. Each of the credit bureaus must provide consumers with a free credit report, once a year. The smartest way to accomplish this is to stagger your requests during the year.

Here’s How:

In January, go to the website and request only one free report from Equifax. Then again in May, request one free report from Trans Union. Lastly in September, request your free report from Experian. This method gives you the opportunity to review your credit report for free over the entire year.

THAT’S NOT ALL FOLKS

To further protect yourself, it’s also important to request a report, monitor or lock down four other lesser-known consumer reporting agencies such as:

ChexSystems: provides account verification services for banks & financial institutions.

Innnovis: provides ID verification data to assist with fraud detection and prevention.

(NCTUE) National Consumer Telecommunications & Utilities Exchange.  NCTUE is a credit checking clearinghouse used by mobile phone providers and utility companies.

Lexis-Nexis: Collects info from public records & data sources such as real estate ownership, liens, judgments, bankruptcies.

 

NEVER HEARD OF THEM

There are dozens of other companies you never heard of that provide consumer reports to specific industries. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) produced a list of all the known entities that maintain, sell and share tons of data on U.S. citizens. The link to the pdf document is here

The pdf document provides information and the links to the websites of 46 different entities. It also provides information about your legal rights to obtain the data in your reports and dispute any inaccuracies contained in them.

Remember that your data is only as safe as the companies and organizations that are tasked to protect that data. The vast majority of them are doing an abysmal job. So, it is up to you to protect your data and to remain vigilant at all times.

ONE MORE REASON

If I haven’t yet convinced you to freeze your credit file, here’s one more reason to do so. All 3 credit bureaus make a nice profit from selling copies of your file to others. Thus, freezing your credit file will deny them a steady revenue stream. Why should they be allowed to profit from selling your personal info; especially when they do such a lousy job at protecting it. What a perfect way to hit them where it hurts – their corporate bottom line!

You can learn more about credit freezes by reading a prior article of mine HERE

Credit FREEZE vs. a Credit LOCK

Consumers Union is recommending consumers place a Credit FREEZE vs. a Credit LOCK.  Here’s Why…

A credit LOCK is simply a contractual business agreement between you and the Credit Bureau. 

Having a contractual agreement is not nearly as strong as having protections under the law. A contractual agreement with a company is subject to change, or may be unclear. It may include provisions that you may be better off NOT agreeing to – such as binding arbitration. With LOCKS, it’s also not clear who would be liable for financial losses.

A Credit FREEZE is the better option, because a credit freeze offers stiffer legal protections.

Its promise to guard your credit accounts is guaranteed by law! If something goes wrong, and your credit accounts are fraudulently accessed, consumers are protected from financial liability.

Credit Freeze vs. a Credit Lock
A Credit Freeze is better than a Credit Lock

BUT – In response to the stampede of people attempting to place a Credit Freeze, after the massive Equifax breach, the 3 Credit Bureaus are pushing consumers to “LOCK” their credit files instead of placing a Credit “FREEZE”.

Just To Be Clear: The best way to protect yourself from an identity thief opening a credit account in your name, is still by placing a credit freeze at all three credit bureaus.

Consumers should be wary of this push towards Credit “Locks”. Equifax and the other two credit bureaus fought for years against our right to freeze our credit reports – and then demanded fees to do so.

Equifax has said it will be offering a new type of credit “LOCK” FREE – for life. This raises questions and concerns about their motives! Credit Bureaus make huge sums of money by selling your information and allowing access to your credit file.  A credit FREEZE will greatly limit their ability to do so.

So if you are offered a choice between a Credit Freeze vs a Credit Lock, don’t let the Credit Bureaus try to fool you. A Credit Freeze has always been the best way to keep the bad guys from getting credit in your good name. A credit LOCK is designed to work in the best interest of the Credit Bureaus – NOT YOU!

“We are still trying to figure out why they are pushing this newer thing they call a credit “lock” says Mike Litt at U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group). “It may allow credit bureaus to market to consumers more aggressively for products that they may not need and/or shouldn’t pay for”.

It’s time for Congress to provide free Credit Freezes. To learn more go here: http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/interactive-map-shows-consumers-42-states-have-no-access-free-credit-freezes 

You can also read one of my previous articles about the Equifax Data Breach