Data breaches are worrisome and frustrating, particularly because so much feels like it is beyond our control. After a breach, victims don't know if – or when – their information may be used by thieves.
How to Protect Yourself After a Data Breach
Taking the following steps can help you regain a sense of control and may help safeguard your personal and financial information.
Monitor Your Accounts
Examine your account statements frequently and carefully for any unexplained activity, and frequently change your passwords.
Obtain Copies of Your Credit Report
Request copies of your credit report from the main credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and the lesser known Innovis – and examine them for any unexplained accounts opened in your name. You are entitled to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit File
Place a fraud alert on your credit file through the main credit reporting agencies. This is a warning to creditors that you may be a victim of identity theft. They should take additional precautions to verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
Ask Your Bank for Assistance
Ask your financial institutions about additional security measures for your accounts. For example, fraud alerts or code words can be placed on some City National accounts for additional protection. In many cases, you can also enable text and email alerts – especially for debit and credit cards – that will potentially notify you of any suspicious activity.
Place a Lock or Freeze on Your Account
Consider placing a lock or freeze on your credit files, which will make it more difficult for someone to open a new account in your name. The credit reporting agencies may charge fees to start and stop a lock or freeze, and it may slow the approval process for legitimate credit requests you initiate. In addition, it will not prevent a thief from accessing your existing accounts.
File Your Taxes Early
Sometimes, identity thieves use Social Security numbers to get a tax refund or obtain a job. File as soon as you have all the information you need – before an identity thief has an opportunity to file in your name – and be sure to respond to any letters from the IRS. Also consider creating an account with IRS.gov to prevent identity thieves from creating one in your name and stealing your personal information and tax data.
Be Aware of Phishing Scams
Be aware of potential phishing emails, phone and mail scams, and be especially wary of emails that appear to come from the source of the breach. Criminals often take advantage of breaches and craft sophisticated phishing emails encouraging consumers to provide personal information. Do not click on links embedded in emails.
If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
If you sense or know that you've been a victim of identity theft, follow these steps to quickly mitigate the problem and help prevent further fraud.
1. Act quickly. Immediately notify all of your financial institutions.
2. In consultation with your financial institutions, consider freezing or canceling all credit, debit and ATM cards.
3. File a police report in the jurisdiction in which your identification was stolen. This shows credit providers you were diligent, and it is a first step toward an investigation.
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
5. Place a fraud alert with one of the three national credit reporting bureaus. This will let any company that checks your credit know your information was stolen, and they should contact you by phone before authorizing new credit. Note: Free fraud alerts may expire after 90 days; you may wish to consider purchasing an ongoing "security freeze" service with one of the credit bureaus.