Clark Howard: Don’t just monitor credit, freeze it

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The Anthem data breach is the latest in a string of high-profile breaches. But this one is particularly important because the criminals have enough information to take over your identity and apply for credit cards or instant store credit as you.

It looks like hackers got names, birthdays, email addresses, Social Security numbers/medical identification numbers, addresses and employment data (including income) from a database of 80 million people across 14 states.

Anyone who has been impacted by this breach will receive written communication from Anthem. In the meantime, there’s a website, AnthemFacts.com, and a hotline at 1-877-263-7995.

That said, there are some things you need to keep in mind whenever you hear about these increasingly common data breaches.

As usual, the company is offering free credit monitoring to all those who were hit. Credit monitoring essentially puts fraud alerts on your credit files with the three main credit bureaus. These alerts are meant to raise a flag to potential creditors, alerting them to carefully verify an applicant’s identity before extending credit. But very often these alerts are ignored.

That’s why a credit freeze is superior to credit monitoring. This allows you to seal your credit reports so no new applications for credit can be initiated in your name without your knowledge. Freezing your credit files has no impact on your existing lines of credit.

This is a time when you need to beware of anyone calling or emailing you trying to impersonate Anthem. When in doubt, hang up the phone or close out the email. Then call Anthem at 1-877-263-7995 to verify the legitimacy of whatever it is you have a question about.

Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website

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