In the past several years there have been massive data breaches in which the personal information of millions of Americans has been accessed by hackers from around the world. To make matter worse, we only hear about the significant data breaches, small ones happen every day, but no one reports those. The big question is, “Do you know what to do in the event your personal data becomes part of a data breach?”
What you need to do to protect yourself is all a matter of what type of personal information was accessed during the breach. If the breach occurred at a banking institute, federal law requires everyone affected be notified of the breach and what information was stolen. In the event of the breach occurring at a major company, only 46 states have laws requiring them to notify you.
It is not uncommon for a number of “phishing” scams to pop up immediately following the announcement of a data breach. Never click on links in emails, even if they look real. Always visit the company’s website and follow the instructions listed there if any.
If the breach included accessing your passwords (or for that matter even if it didn’t,” now is the perfect time to change all your passwords, even those that may not have been directly affected just to be on the safe side.
Watch Your Email
Keep a close eye on your email inbox. If you get emails requesting you divulge personal information or click on a link. Delete these immediately. If you receive a suspicious email from a company you are used to dealing with, call them for verification.
Your Credit Cards
If the loss includes your credit card information, be sure to contact your credit card companies and ask for new cards to be sent to you with new numbers. Some lenders will do this automatically, but it is up to you to protect yourself. Also, worth noting, is that since it was just the number that was stolen, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you are not responsible for any authorized purchases.
Your Debit Cards
Under the same act, you are not liable for any purchases made with your debit card following the theft, providing you report the loss within 60 days. At the same time go ahead and have your bank cancel the cards and issue you new ones. Talk to your bank about using a verbal password to access your account to keep thieves out.
Your Social Security Number
More damage can be done by identity thieves with your social security number than anything else. You only have to contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to have them put an alert on your account. By law, they have to tell the other two. The alert will be seen by lenders who know to take extra precautions and steps to ensure it is really you they are dealing with.
These are the most important steps you can take to protect yourself should your information be part of a data breach. Be proactive by keeping an eye on your credit report. You are entitled to one free printed copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year. Some credit cards like Discovery now let you check your FICO score any time you want, others like Credit Karma let you see what’s on your report at any time.