Romy Ribitzk

Should I lock or freeze my credit reports?

It seems you can’t go more than a week without hearing about how another company suffered a major data breach that put thousands of people’s identifying information at risk.

All these breaches add up to a serious headache for consumers. In some cases, criminals can access or purchase your personal information compromised in a breach and use it to open fraudulent financial accounts in your name. Among other ways to help to protect yourself from identity theft, you may be wondering if you should lock or freeze your credit.

  • Credit locks vs. credit freezes: What they are and how they differ
  • How credit locks work
  • How credit freezes work
  • Other ways to reduce your risk

Credit locks vs. credit freezes: What they are and how they differ

Credit locks and credit freezes put a halt to companies requesting to view your credit reports before approving you for a new account.

While current creditors and debt collectors acting on their behalf can still pull your reports, criminals shouldn’t be able to open a new account without your knowledge or permission.

Credit locks and credit freezes aren’t the same thing, though. Here’s what you need to know.

  Credit lock         Credit freeze
What does it do? Prevents creditors from gaining access to your credit report Prevents creditors from gaining access to your credit report
How quickly does it go into effect? Usually instantly, but some bureaus take up to 48 hours No later than five business days after receiving your request
How long does it take to remove it from your account?   You can generally unlock your credit immediately Up to three business days
Is it governed by law? No Yes, laws have been passed by nearly all U.S. States
How long does it last? The length of your subscription to the service from the credit bureau Depends. Indefinitely in some states; seven years in some others

What’s the cost?

Experian CreditLock: Free for 30 days, $19.99 each additional month

Equifax Lock & AlertTM: Free

TransUnion TrueIdentity: Free

Experian: Free

Equifax: Free

TransUnion: Free


How can I get a copy of my credit reports?

You can get free access to your credit scores, reports and monitoring within minutes at Credit Karma. Credit Karma features VantageScore 3.0 credit scores provided independently by TransUnion and Equifax.

But a credit card company or other lender will likely use a different scoring model altogether. Many different factors are considered when calculating a score, and each model may weigh credit factors differently.

Though your scores may vary, they`re all based on information in your credit reports. So focusing on what`s in your reports could help you build your credit overall. Once you know where you stand, Credit Karma can help you figure out where to go from there.


How credit locks work

Credit file locks are usually a feature of products offered by the three major consumer credit bureaus (as opposed to guaranteed by law). Each bureau has its own identity theft resources, which may include credit locks.

When you lock your credit file with a specific credit bureau, lenders can no longer access your credit file from that bureau.

While the timing for each bureau’s product varies, credit locks allow you to quickly lock and unlock your reports in a relatively painless manner (usually via an app or the bureau’s website). Locks may be removed instantly or take up to 48 hours to be removed.

How to lock your credit reports with all three bureaus

Unfortunately, there’s no central hub where you can lock or freeze all your reports at once. So technically, you’ll need to lock or freeze your credit reports at all three bureaus to have the best chance at preventing criminals from opening new accounts. Here’s how to lock your report with each of the major bureaus:

  • Equifax offers Lock & Alert™ for free.
  • TransUnion offers credit locks through a free service as well as through paid products.
  • Experian offers credit locks through a paid monthly service.

Pros and cons of locking your credit file

According to Alayna Pehrson, digital marketing strategist at the consumer review site BestCompany, “It’s a lot easier to unlock and lock credit than it is to unfreeze and freeze credit.”

“Credit lock services typically cost a monthly or annual fee,” Pehrson says. However, some bureaus now offer the service for free in light of recent data breaches.

Just remember, you’ll no longer be able to lock your credit report if you get rid of the service or product with a bureau.

As we briefly mentioned above, you should also note that credit locking isn’t governed by law as credit freezing is in most states. This means that a credit freeze generally has more protections guaranteed by law, so you may have more rights if fraud occurs after a credit freeze as opposed to a credit lock.

How credit freezes work

There’s one major difference between credit locks and credit freezes: Unlike locks, freezes do not require you to maintain a subscription at a credit bureau. To place a freeze on your credit reports, simply visit each bureau’s website or call the phone number.

New federal legislation requires credit-reporting agencies to offer free credit freezes and unfreezes beginning no later than September 21, 2018.

How to freeze your credit report with all three bureaus

If you want to freeze your report with each of the major bureaus, you can start by calling the following numbers. We’ve also included the appropriate link for each bureau.

  • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
  • TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742

Pros and cons of freezing your credit file

On the bright side, credit freezes can last for a long time. Most states allow credit freezes to stay in place until you remove them, but other states allow freezes to expire after seven years. With credit freezes, you don’t have to worry about your subscription expiring and removing your lock.

As noted above, new federal law will make freezing and unfreezing your credit reports free across the country.

Credit freezes may take longer to lift (or “thaw”) than credit locks. While credit freezes can be lifted quickly in some cases, certain states’ laws allow credit bureaus up to three business days to lift a credit freeze.

Other ways to reduce your risk

Putting a freeze or lock on your credit report is just one way to begin reducing your risk of identity theft.

Going forward, you should always monitor your credit reports from all three major consumer credit bureaus for any suspicious activity or incorrect reporting that may appear.

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of checking your credit reports manually, Credit Karma offers free credit monitoring for your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports.

Other ways to reduce your risk of identity theft in your everyday life include:

  • Not giving out more personal info than necessary. Whenever you’re filling out documentation for medical offices or any other reason, never give out any information that isn’t required — especially your Social Security number. Just leave the line item blank and only give the information if there’s a legitimate need.
  • Maintaining strong passwords. You should also use different usernames and strong passwords for each account you have. While it’s easier to use the same username and password so you don’t forget them, it only takes one account being compromised for an identity thief to access the rest of your accounts.

Credit Karma has also created another way to help you detect potential identity theft.

With the ID monitoring feature, you can use your email address to see if your personal information has been exposed in another company’s public data breach. We’ll also let you know some tips and tools to help you take the right next steps.

Bottom line

Locking or freezing your credit file may help prevent criminals from opening fraudulent accounts in your name.

If you don’t plan on applying for any new credit in the near future and your state doesn’t allow credit freezing fees, a freeze may be the way to go.

However, if you apply for new credit on a regular basis, the locking process might be easier to turn on and off on short notice.

Either way, make sure you continue monitoring your credit reports, protecting your personal information and using unique usernames and strong passwords to help reduce your risk of identity theft.

About the author: Lance Cothern is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. His work has appeared on Business Insider, USA and his website, Mone… Read more.

Greg Hernandez

Equifax reveals an additional 2.4 million victims of ’17 data breach

Equifax has identified another 2.4 million Americans whose data was compromised last year in a massive breach that now totals 147.9 million victims.

The revelations come as the credit reporting company continues investigating the cyberattack that exposed Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers.

What does this mean?

Consumers who weren’t previously identified as victims of the breach, which was revealed in September 2017, could be at risk. The cyberattack, which occurred between May and July of 2017, was said last year to have affected up to 143 million U.S. consumers.

Hackers can use your personal information to open up new credit cards, take out auto loans under your name or even drain your bank accounts.

Why should you care?

Data breaches can seriously affect your finances. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what information hackers might have, and when or how they may use it. Even if you were already identified as a victim of this data breach, you may not see any signs of fraudulent activity for months, if ever.

Hackers can use your personal information to open up new credit cards, take out auto loans under your name or even drain your bank accounts. The process to repair the damage can be costly and become a huge headache, so it’s important to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

What can you do?

Equifax has set up a website — — to let you see whether your personal information was stolen in the initial breach. Just click the red box: “Am I Impacted?” Equifax will be notifying newly identified breach victims by mail.

Whether your personal information was compromised or not, you can be proactive in protecting yourself and your personal information. Following these tips can help you mitigate any potential damage from this breach or others.

  1. Use free credit monitoring tools like Credit Karma’s free Credit Monitoring. This is a useful tool to get notified if Credit Karma notices important changes on your TransUnion or Equifax credit files — like a new account or address change.
  2. Obtain a copy of your credit reports. You can obtain your full credit report from each of the three major consumer credit reporting bureaus once every 12 months.
  3. Freeze your credit. A security freeze is a great way to stop anyone from using your personal information to take out a loan or new credit card in your name because it prevents potential lenders from accessing your credit files. This will also make you unable to do the same — unless you unfreeze your credit reports first.

About the author: Brian Spychalski is a former Credit Karma freelance contributor now based in San Francisco. He has a background in corporate finance and a deep knowledge of the consumer credit market. W… Read more.

How to protect yourself from identity theft

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to identity theft.

You may not remember every store you’ve shopped at or all the websites you’ve visited, but thieves and hackers can strike anywhere and at any time.

While the following measures can’t guarantee protection against identity theft, there are ways to better safeguard your information and concrete steps to take if you believe you are a victim.

Let’s take a look at what the experts say:

  1. Check all your financial accounts for errors or suspicious activity
  2. Enroll in a credit monitoring service
  3. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
  4. Consider freezing your credit
  5. Alert the authorities
  6. Always use strong passwords and be aware of information you give out

1. Check all your financial accounts for errors or suspicious activity

It’s important to stay vigilant against identity theft, and that means regularly checking for any suspicious transactions. And this is not just your credit reports. You’ll need to review bank and credit card statements as well.

If you find any evidence of fraud, reach out to the financial institution and to the credit reporting bureau (or bureaus) where you found the information right away. You can view your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports for free through Credit Karma.

You may also request a free copy of your credit reports from the three major bureaus —  TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — through the government-authorized site

Tax refunds are also targets for thieves, so be on the lookout for suspicious activity with your taxes, the IRS advises, such as receiving a tax notice from a job you never held. Consumer Reports suggests that consumers file taxes early to prevent someone from using your Social Security number to steal your tax refund or your identity.

2. Enroll in a credit monitoring service

A credit monitoring service may be able to help if you’re concerned about identity theft, but note there is no guarantee that your identity won’t get stolen.

If you’re a Credit Karma member, consider enabling our free credit monitoring service.

We can track credit reports on a daily basis and we’ll proactively notify you if there’s been an important change to your TransUnion and/or Equifax credit reports, such as a new hard inquiry.

What’s important here is that a service can help you spot suspicious activity early and may even help you recover your identity after it’s been stolen.

3. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

If you believe you’re a victim, you may want to place a fraud alert on your credit report, advises the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s free to place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and people do this even if they only suspect their information has been compromised. You’ll only have to contact one of the credit reporting bureaus for a fraud alert; that bureau is required to contact the others with your request.

Here’s how a fraud alert works: When credit card issuers and other lenders pull your credit reports, they’ll be notified that you may be the victim of identity theft and should contact you before opening an account in your name.

There are two types of fraud alerts:

Type of Alert Details Length
Initial fraud alert Requires that a “creditor take reasonable steps to make sure the person making a new credit request in your name is actually you. If you provide a telephone number, the lender must call you or take reasonable steps to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.” 90 days; will expire after
Extended fraud alert This is available only if you’re the victim of ID theft and you’ve filed a police report. You can also only do this once. Requires a “creditor contact you in person or through the telephone number or other contact method you designate to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.” 7 years

4. Consider freezing your credit

Another response would be to place a freeze on your credit reports. This locks your credit reports so that lenders cannot pull them and prevents new accounts from being opened in your name.

You must request this service from each credit bureau separately, and be sure to ask about fees. Here’s where you can request a freeze from each of the three major credit bureaus:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • TransUnion

Experts also recommend that you keep an eye out for missing tax refunds and medical bills you don’t recognize.

Some parents are also electing to freeze or lock the credit reports of their minor children. Each one of the three major credit reporting bureaus has pages detailing specific processes and limitations. Here they are, but note that the circumstances under which a parent can freeze the credit report of their children may vary by state:

● Equifax minor child warning
● Experian protected consumer process
● TransUnion protected consumer process

You can also consider freezing your credit report with Innovis, a lesser-known credit reporting agency, and ChexSystems, a reporting agency for checking and savings accounts.

If I freeze my credit, can I still view my credit reports through Credit Karma?

If you’re already a Credit Karma member, you can continue to view your credit reports through us, even if you freeze your credit. However, if you’re not a member and you’ve frozen your credit with TransUnion, you won’t be able to sign up for an account with us without unfreezing your credit (though you can re-freeze it again after).

5. Alert the authorities

If you are a victim of ID theft, you’ll want to file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at or by phone at 1-877-438-4338.

The FTC site walks you through a three-step process: describe what happened, receive a recovery plan and learn ways to take action on that plan.

Next, the FTC advises victims to alert their local police departments with the following items:

  • A copy of your FTC identity theft report
  • A government-issued ID with a photo
  • Proof of your address, such as a utility bill
  • Any other proof you have of the theft, such as a bill or an IRS notice
  • FTC’s Memo to Law Enforcement

(The last link opens to the letter in PDF form.)

6. Always use strong passwords and be aware of information you give out

You probably know not to use “password” or “12345” as your password for accounts with sensitive information.

But experts also recommend you avoid using your personal information, such as your name or birthdate, in your password. You should also avoid using dictionary words.

Consider creating a diverse, complex password or passphrase with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

Better still, a password manager can generate, store and input complex, secure passwords for you, almost like an online gatekeeper.

Also, experts strongly recommend that you use a new password for each website. That way, if there’s a data breach and hackers steal your password for one account, they don’t have access to all of your accounts.

Further, only enter your financial or personal information on a trusted, secure website, and never share your information in response to an unsolicited request. Also, ID theft isn’t always online — thieves can target your mail or skim an ATM.

Credit Karma has also created another way to help you detect identity theft.

With the ID monitoring feature, you can use your email address to search for any accounts that are in any public data breaches. If your information has been exposed in a breach, we’ll let you know some tips and tools to help you take the right next steps.

We’ll also continue to monitor your identity and credit for free.

Bottom line

Identity theft is an unfortunate fact of modern life. Recent government data by the National Crime Victimization Survey/U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show that 7% of U.S. adults 16 or older have been victims of identity theft.

So while it’s a good idea to use strong passwords and to check your credit reports regularly, it’s just as important to know how to respond when identity theft happens to you.

“You can’t prevent yourself from being a target,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and president of The Ulzheimer Group. “Everyone’s a target. It’s just a matter of reducing your exposure and making it more difficult for the fraudsters to be successful.”

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.

How do hackers use your information for identity theft?

Whenever you hear news about a data breach, you may wonder exactly what hackers can do with your information. As it turns out, quite a lot.

Unfortunately, hackers work fast, too. According to May 2017 research by the Federal Trade Commission, it took only nine minutes before the hackers tried to access the information from a fake data breach.

If you’ve recently found out your data was compromised, then you should know the various ways identity thieves can use your information. This knowledge can prepare you for managing the effects of identity theft as soon as it happens.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the process of stealing your personal information — like your name, address, Social Security number and email address — and using it without your consent. Identity theft can happen to anyone, and the effects can be more than just an inconvenience.

Hackers may obtain your information in a data breach. But they may also be able to get your information if you enter it on a public computer or go to an unsecured website — and these are just some examples of how hackers can steal your information.

They can then use your personal information in a variety of ways for their own gain and at your expense.

Here are five ways hackers can take advantage of you and your information:

  1. Your info could be used to open credit cards or take out loans
  2. Hackers can intercept your tax refund
  3. Your info can be used to cover medical treatment
  4. Hackers can take flight with your airline miles
  5. Your info could be used to open utility accounts

1. Your info could be used to open credit cards or take out loans

If hackers have your Social Security number, name, birthdate and address, they can open credit cards or apply for loans in your name.

“Hackers obtaining personal information, including Social Security numbers, can enable someone to pose as their victim and get credit or take out loans that they never pay back,” says Steven J.J. Weisman, a lawyer and author of “Identity Theft Alert: 10 Rules You Must Follow to Protect Yourself from America’s #1 Crime“.

2. Hackers can intercept your tax refund

If you’re like most people, you’re excited to get your tax refund. But sadly, hackers can intercept your tax refund by filing a fake tax return, using your Social Security number, birthdate and name.

Consumers who wait until the last minute to file may be more vulnerable. You’d likely only find out once you file your tax return and it gets rejected.

To help prevent this, the IRS recommends the following precautions:

  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Use strong passwords.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS.
  • Don’t click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.

3. Your info can be used to cover medical treatment

People who steal your info aren’t just using it to buy lavish items. They can also use it to receive medical treatment by using your Social Security number and health insurance account numbers.

“In most cases, (identity thieves) use your same address, phone number… everything. Their goal is to get treatment and/or medications, and then they are gone, leaving very little time for them to be found out,” says Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer at background checking service

In fact, according to research from Michigan State University, there were nearly 1,800 incidents of medical data breaches with patients’ information from October 2009 to December 2016.

Hackers can receive treatments, prescriptions and more by using your benefits. In addition to increased expenses for you, this can also put your own health at risk as the thief’s medical information will now be mixed up with yours.

Be sure to thoroughly review your medical bills and insurance statements as these may show signs of identity theft. You can check if the claim description matches the care you received.

If you see a discrepancy, call your health provider to report it.

Also make a habit of regularly checking your credit reports to check for delinquent (unpaid) medical bills on your credit reports.

4. Hackers can take flight with your airline miles

Using your email and passwords, hackers can get access to your airline miles to book trips or even redeem for cash.

“Airline miles can be converted to cash as easily as going to websites that buy miles,” Lavelle says.

To help prevent this, use a different password than the one you have on other accounts, and keep track of your mile activity regularly.

5. Your info could be used to open utility accounts

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 13% of fraud incidents in 2016 occurred with phone and utility accounts.

In these cases, hackers may have opened an account with an electric, gas or cellphone company by using a stolen Social Security number. They then can run up tabs on the account, which is under your name, without you knowing.

There’s another scam to be aware of as well. Identity thieves can call you and pretend to be the utility company, threatening to turn off your electricity if you don’t pay up.  However, these fraudsters are just trying to steal your money.

If your utility company is asking you to pay up, make sure you’re talking to the real deal and verify your repayment status.

You can do this by checking the utility company’s phone number and also checking your online account to verify your status.

How can you prevent identity theft?

While you can’t prevent a big data breach or ever fully protect yourself against identity theft, there are some measures you can take to make yourself less vulnerable. Here are some quick tips:

  • Make sure you have a strong password that has many characters (including a mix of lower- and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols) and has no personally identifiable information or dictionary words.
  • When you’re online, make sure the sites you visit are secure. The URL will usually have a lock in the left-hand corner and start with “https”.
  • Enable two-factor authentication, so you’ll need to enter a code from your phone to access your accounts.
  • Check your financial transactions often, and keep tabs on your credit reports to look for any changes.

Credit Karma has also created another way to help you detect identity theft.

With the ID monitoring feature, you can use your email address to search for any accounts that are in any public data breaches. If your information has been exposed in a breach, we’ll let you know some tips and tools to help you take the right next steps.

We’ll also continue to monitor your credit for free.

What’s next

There’s no shortage of ways hackers can use your information, and they seem to be getting ever more creative.

If you’re a victim of identity theft, you can follow the steps provided by the FTC to help you get through it. You can also submit a complaint through the FTC.

Of course, there are no foolproof methods to preventing identity theft. But taking precautions and catching signs of identity theft as early as possible can help immensely.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of thei… Read more.

How to create and protect a strong password

Creating a strong password for each of your accounts can help protect you from identity theft.

Whether you’ve dealt with identity theft in the past (a major pain) or simply want to avoid it, making a strong password is a vital step you should take to protect your information.

Fortunately, creating a strong password is more of a science than an art. There are certain guidelines you can follow to help you create good passwords and improve your password security.

  1. Create a long, random password
  2. Avoid using single dictionary words
  3. Use simple memory techniques or a password manager to remember your passwords
  4. Follow proper password security measures
  5. Enable two-factor authentication

1. Create a long, random password

First, you want to make your password diverse and complex — ideally one that uses random alphanumeric and special characters. On top of that, generally the longer your password is, the better; using between eight and 15 characters (or more) can help.

For example, a strong password would be 15kR}545C00t46c. It’s long and contains a variety of characters with no notable patterns.

A weak password would be 123abc! because it has a predictable pattern and not enough characters. You should also avoid using sequences like 12345, keyboard patterns like qwertyuiop (the first line of letters on a keyboard) or repetitive characters like aaaaa.

“Every additional character you add to a password makes it more difficult for a hacker to guess or break your password,” says Michael Levin, CEO and founder of the Center for Information Security Awareness (CFISA). Levin previously worked as branch chief of the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force program.

Levin says that by using a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols, you also make password discovery through guessing or easily-available password cracking tools more difficult.

2. Avoid using single dictionary words

Stay away from using a lone dictionary word as your password. If your password is a common word, it could be an easy hack. Since you usually get a limited number of login attempts before your account is locked, a hacker trying to figure out your password might start out with common dictionary words.

Rather than using a single dictionary word, you could consider using a combination of words to create a password phrase. This makes for a password that’s easier to remember but harder for a hacker to guess.

3. Use simple memory techniques or a password manager to remember your passwords

Creating a strong password that is long and complex can be hard to remember. Luckily, there are some tricks to help you create good passwords and remember them.

Remember using mnemonic devices at school? These are techniques to help improve your recall and can help with password management. For example, some kids use the mnemonic “Never Eat Slimy Worms” to remember the first letter of the directions in order (North, East, South, West).

These techniques can boost your ability to remember your password.

Nick Santora, chief executive officer at Curricula, which trains employees on cybersecurity, recommends using the “passphrase” system. You’ll create a sentence that’s both memorable and short enough to boil down to a password.

So, say you pick “Gone With The Wind,” which you pare down to the acronym “GWTW”.

You can then add numbers and characters to increase your password security.

Using the acronym above, you could create a password that would be GWTW!04@gwtw.

Using this method, you can create something that’s easy to remember for you, but nearly unrecognizable to others.

If using this kind of technique doesn’t feel like your thing, don’t worry — you’re not out of options. Consider using a password manager, a secure tool that saves your passwords for you so you don’t have to remember them.

Password managers can encrypt your passwords in the cloud and sync to your accounts. You’ll then have one master password. Password managers are recommended by many security experts and may be able to limit your risk of identity theft.

However, be aware that you may have to pay to use these services, particularly if you’re interested in upgrading from a basic version of the tool.

Should I use a password generator?

Using a password generator can help you create long, complex passwords, which can be helpful if you’re stumped. Many generators will let you select the criteria you’re looking for in a password (e.g. password length, whether to include numbers or mixed case) so you can ensure it fits the site requirements.

4. Follow proper password security measures

Creating a strong password is just one part of password security. You’ll have to manage your passwords and use them correctly as well.

To do that, you don’t want to use the same password for multiple sites. Doing so could mean that if hackers get their hands on one password, they have access to all of your accounts.

Also, while experts previously advised that you change your password frequently, some security experts now say you might not need to do that. You may only need to change your password if you think you’ve been hacked or if there’s suspicious activity.

5. Enable two-factor authentication

On top of having good passwords, consider enabling two-factor authentication when you sign into your email, bank website or any other sensitive account.

When using two-factor authentication, a code will be sent to your phone when you sign in. You then input the code to access your account. Hackers likely don’t have access to your phone, so this can be a great way to add a layer of password security.

It may feel like additional work, but the extra protection can go a long way.

What can happen if a hacker gets your password?

Passwords are a door that unlocks your information and data, and they’re necessary to keep your account protected and private.

“Passwords are the most valuable prizes to any hacker, because it gives them the opportunity to enter your accounts and spend as much time as needed to steal your data,” Levin says.

If your password gets into a hacker’s hands, a number of things could happen:

  • You could be locked out of your account and unable to access your information.
  • Hackers could use information in your accounts to steal your identity and make financial or other types of transactions without your knowledge.

This is why it’s important to take password security seriously.

How can I keep my information safe?

Keep regular tabs on the transactions in your financial accounts, don’t click on suspicious emails and make sure the websites you visit are secure (for example, checking to see if the URL starts with https, not http). Checking your credit reports can also help you recognize any potential issues. If you suspect identity theft has occurred, change your passwords and contact your financial institution right away.

What’s next?

Living a life online means being vulnerable to hackers and other online predators looking to steal your information.

Though there’s always a risk — and no foolproof, guaranteed safety net — you can take steps to protect your information by creating a strong password.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of thei… Read more.