The Capital One data breach affects 100 million Americans—here are 3 free ways to protect your info


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Photo: Getty Images / Valentin Russanov

Before I even finished my caramel iced coffee this morning, I was on the phone with my dad about the recent Capital One data breach. He’s usually the first one I call in such situations. Oh, have you not heard of this? Capital One announced that 100 million people are affected by a recent hack. If you applied for a Capital One credit card between 2005 and early 2019, your credit scores, balances, ZIP codes, email addresses, dates of birth, self-reported income, and payments history might be exposed. Additionally, 140,000 customers had their social security numbers breached and another 80,000 had their bank account numbers hacked.

Of course, my dad knew all this already. I contact him routinely about my personal finances because I’m striving for financial wellness instead of just going, “Data breach? Oh, well.” I’m not personally affected by this latest hack, but Capital One is offering $125 or free credit monitoring for 10 years to anyone whose data was compromised. As for my own future fiscal responsibility, I decided there’s no time like the present to stop asking my dad for help, so I reached out to a true financial expert instead.

Here’s how to stay on top of your financial wellness in case of a data breach

1. check your credit score regularly

Routinely monitoring your credit score allows you to find out if something fishy is going on with your information.

“A change in credit score typically means there is activity on your account,” says Shannon McLay, founder of Financial Gym. “You can check your score for free at any time through sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. If you already have credit cards, most providers including Chase, Bank of America, and American Express, share your FICO score with you through their websites and apps. Set a monthly reminder on your phone to check it.”

2. Pull your full credit report

According to McLay, you can do this through services like AnnualCreditReport.com. And if you’re smart about it, you don’t have to pay a dime.

“You can get this once a year for free from each of the credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax,” McKay says. Split these up over a year and you can see a full credit report (for free!) every four months.

3. Freeze Your Credit

This is probably the most proactive method when to comes with protecting your info, and it’s also delightfully free! Before September 2018, you would have had to pay $3 to $12 in order to freeze your credit which is like, the cost of a cheap coffee or a pricey breakfast sandwich, but still. We’re trying to save money and be financially wise here, people!

“If you don’t plan to apply for any new credit, you can have your credit frozen with three credit bureaus so that no one can open up any new credit using your social security number,” says McLay. Lifting a freeze is kind of tedious, but the extra effort is worth the peace of mind, she says.

Unfortunately, your recourse to exact revenge on the hacker is limited (Capital One says the FBI has made an arrest), and we usually only learn how to be better about breaches after they happen. But it’s never too late to be knowledgeable about what’s going on with your credit to help you keep your cool. You know, like a dad.

Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s how to feel better about your finances right now. And if you’re hosting a friend for the weekend, here’s how to have fun without spending a million dollars.

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