Data breaches often lead to panic among consumers. They expose personal information, and it can be unclear exactly how much data was compromised. If your personal information was hacked, you can’t be sure what hackers intend to use it for. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself after a data breach to avoid the costly effects that a hack can cause.
Freeze Your Credit
If you know your information has been compromised, you can freeze your credit. This restricts who can access your credit report. Credit reports are often referenced by banks or lenders when approving a new line of credit or a loan, actions that thieves often try to take. Therefore, if a thief tries to use your identity to open a new line of credit and the bank or lender is not able to access your credit report, the thief will not be able to do so. Note that with a credit freeze on your account, you will also be blocked when trying to open a new line of credit. You’ll need to thaw your credit before being able to do so.
It’s important to be aware that there are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. With credit freezes, you may need to notify all three bureaus that you would like to take this action on your account. Unfortunately, the fee for a credit freeze, which can range from $5 - $10, is per credit bureau.
Set Up Fraud Alerts
Fraud alerts provide less protection than a freeze but are still a valuable option. Rather than completely blocking companies from seeing your credit report, fraud alerts require identity verification before any further action can occur. Alerts typically expire after 90 days but are free and can be renewed. To request a fraud alert, write to the credit bureaus stating the reason for your request.
Monitor Your Statements
It’s also a good idea to monitor your account statements for any suspicious charges. Make it a habit to check your monthly statements when they’re issued each month. Go line by line with each charge and ensure you recognize each transaction and that the amounts are accurate. If something looks off, contact your credit card company promptly to dispute the charge.
Check Your Credit Report Every 12 Months
You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. We recommend that you write a letter to request your reports. Just as you would monitor your monthly statements, look over your credit report carefully and dispute any findings that are incorrect with the credit bureaus.
Identity thieves can be tricky, so learn how to recognize scams. Scammers often use tax season to target victims. If your information has been compromised, identity thieves can file taxes under your name and claim your refund before you have a chance to. To avoid this, file your taxes as early as possible.
Also, be aware of phishing attempts. Thieves can take advantage of security breaches by pretending to be members of the compromised organization. Be cautious who you give your information to following a data breach, even if the person claims to be trustworthy or knows your personal information. Request that they provide you with written documentation showing who they are, the company they work for, and details that support their request.
Sign Up for Notifications
As a preventative measure, you can set up text and/or email notifications so that you’re aware when purchases are made on your account. Use these alerts to ensure that you’ve authorized all charges. If a suspicious charge arises, contact your bank or credit card company to report the charge.
Make sure to change your login information on the breached site and any sites using the same information. It’s never a good idea to use the same password on multiple sites in case one is compromised. If you’ve done so, change all information to prevent hackers from having easy access or hacking into another account.
Address the Situation
When it comes to debt collectors, it can be hard to tell the difference between a scam and a legitimate collector. If someone has stolen your identity, you may receive collection calls or letters. You should request the collector provide a validation and itemization of the debt that is claimed. Most importantly, address the situation and let them know that the debt is not yours. If you’re unsure if the caller is legitimate, ask for verification. You can use these steps to address debt collector calls.
Anyone can be the victim of a data breach or identity theft. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that there are ways to protect your information from being compromised further. Be on the lookout for changes to listings your credit reports, charges to your credit cards, "Welcome" letters sent by creditors, and any changes to your credit profile.