Are you on top of your credit report?

A friend received a solicitation from a credit monitoring agency that offered to keep on top of her credit report for $300 / year.  Although I’m as sensitive to the risk of identity theft as anyone outside the ranks of security professionals, I also know there’s a lot of fun to be had for $300 a year.  That’s almost the annual cost of a cat!

In the ensuing conversation, it became obvious that my friend was not aware she could get a free credit report from each of the three monitoring agencies every year.  The website that provides this service is: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp (You have to order the free reports from this site; you will be charged for reports from the individual reporting bureaus’ websites. You also have to pay to see your actual credit score, rather than just your account information, total debt ratio, and payment history.)  What you do about what you see in your report is outside my skill set.  However, I can help you stay on top of the situation without too much remembering.

The trick to getting cheaper-than-$300 year-round coverage is to order one report from one agency every four months.  Four months later, order a report from the next agency, and so on, and you’ll never be too far from having looked at what the agencies know about you.

Either a paper-tickler file reminder or a repeating Task (Outlook), scheduled to recur every four months, can be used as a reminder to go out to the site and look.  Because the site tracks your visits, it can be helpful to note the actual date of your report in the Task’s Note field (or on your 3×5 card) so that you wait 366 days for the next one from that agency.

And now, a word from your hard drive

I miss corporate IT; people who ran incremental backups nightly and could restore files across servers after hard drives started making funny noises and screens turned blue. I have to solve these problems mostly myself now. Agreed, there are excellent private tech support people in the area who can help. But backing up my hard drive is my problem.

Stephane Grenier, of Landlord Max, wrote about testing backups yesterday. I’ve pondered this problem. It’s a partial solution to dutifully kick off a complete backup to an external hard drive once a week or so. But if I never test the restore, I don’t really know for certain that I’ve done much good. I have at least looked at the files on the hard drive, although I still have to take them to a (trusted) friend’s PC and see if I can get what I need on a different system. I admit I have not tested the backup that puts selected files on the internet automatically. Emails appear the next morning saying the backup ran and XZ MB of data was copied… but it could be garbage. Next action: Check this.

When I had an office outside my house, I would regularly copy off highly-important files to CDs and kept those CDs in my cube, figuring that it was unlikely that both locations would be hit by a fire on the same night (less so for a hurricane strike, however…). One local photographer mails external hard drive backups to her parents in another state.

As with any property insurance, I need to consider the amount of money at risk against what I would spend to protect it. In this case, the “money” is both cash (hard drive recovery starts in the lower thousands) and time. The unknown-to-me variables are those of house fire or catastrophic storm (or errant dog, or diet drink), and hard drive failure. The outlay is the cost of an online backup service, and perhaps a second external hard drive (maybe a thumb drive?), stored at a friend’s house and updated regularly (which carries its own additional time cost).

When it comes to keeping paper records, David Allen has two suggestions: If in doubt, throw it out, and, If in doubt, keep it. If you’re not backing up your hard drive regularly, sooner or later, you will have selected the first option for your digital data.