Keeping It Private

Kristine Hayes

WHILE SITTING AT MY desk a few months ago, I received a text message from Citibank notifying me of “suspicious activity” on my primary credit card. I immediately logged onto my account and discovered someone that morning had attempted to use my credit card number at a luxury resort—one located several hundred miles from where I work. The charge had been denied, but the damage was done. I immediately cancelled the card. I also began notifying the companies I have automated payments with, telling them I’d have to provide a new card number for future payments.

As it turned out, my credit card was hacked at around the same time Equifax announced a data breach that affected 143 million customers. Credit card numbers for more than 200,000 of those customers were compromised as part of that incident. I’ll likely never know if my card number was among those stolen or if the timing was coincidental. Still, the incident prompted me to take additional steps to ensure my identifying information is as secure as possible.

After cancelling my credit card, I logged onto my credit union account to see if anything looked out of place. For that and other financial accounts, I utilize a password management program to keep track of my various passwords. In addition to using unique and strong passwords for my accounts, I also use two-step authentication whenever it’s available—an important precaution when accessing my accounts from a work or other non-home computer. That helps ensure my account information can’t be accessed without my knowledge.

Next, I made sure I had fraud alerts set up on all my accounts. While many credit card companies will automatically provide some level of fraud monitoring, most also allow you to personalize the service. At my credit union, I can specify a dollar limit for individual purchases. Any transaction over that amount will automatically result in me receiving a notification via email, phone or text. I can also elect to receive an alert if my card is ever used abroad.

A couple of weeks after receiving my replacement credit card, I ordered a credit report through While I could have downloaded as many as three separate reports—one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus—I chose to look at just one. By electing to look at a single report every few months, I can keep tabs on my credit history throughout the year, without ever having to pay for a report.

Finally, I plan to file my 2017 taxes as soon as I receive all my tax statements. Filing as early as I can may prevent thieves from successfully filing a fraudulent return, should they have access to my Social Security number.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous articles include So Rewarding, Driving Down Costs and Getting Sued.

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