From Target to Yahoo, many big corporations experienced a serious data breach in the past year. Even if you don’t usually shop at a compromised retailer or use a certain email provider, your personal information and logins may be at risk.
If you have been the victim of a data breach, it’s important to take certain steps to protect yourself and your finances.
Five steps you should take after a data breach.
1. Consider freezing your credit
After an incident like the Target data breach, a credit freeze can be a smart way to protect your credit and keep thieves from opening accounts in your name.
Sometimes called a security freeze, freezing your credit restricts access to your report. That makes it more difficult for criminals to open accounts in your name. To approve a new line of credit, lenders or credit card companies need to view your credit report. If a credit freeze is on, they cannot open it, and will not approve a new account. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
To put a freeze on your account, contact the three credit reporting bureaus — it’s important to contact all three to ensure your credit report is protected:
If needed, you can lift a credit freeze temporarily, such as applying for a new apartment or a mortgage. When you are ready to permanently remove the freeze, contact each credit bureau and ask them to end it.
While a credit freeze can be a useful strategy, keep in mind identity thieves can still rack up charges on existing accounts; they just cannot open new ones.
Even after you put a credit freeze on your account, monitor your current credit cards and bank accounts for unauthorized charges.
2. Monitor your credit report
After a data breach, review a copy of your credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months.
In the case of a data breach, it’s a good idea to stagger when you look at each credit report. Since fraudsters can use your information months after a data breach is identified, reviewing your report often can help catch fraudulent activity.
A good strategy is to request one report every four months. For example, in January, request your credit report from Equifax. Then in May, take out a report from Experian. Finally, in September, check your report from TransUnion. That way, you can continuously check your credit without paying for a fresh report.
3. Update your passwords
If a major data breach happens, it’s important to take action even if you don’t think any of your financial information was compromised. Even if the thieves do not get your account information, just having your email and password can be enough for them to cause you plenty of trouble.
Many people use the same passwords on multiple sites, so once they’re armed with your password, thieves can log in to bank accounts, store sites, and more.
After a data breach, change your passwords, particularly for your bank and credit card accounts. You can use a service like Dashlane or Last Pass to come up with site-specific, secure passwords, without having to remember all of them.
4. Contact your financial institutions
Your credit card companies and banks are experts on data breaches and fraud. After a data breach, call your financial institutions and ask if a new card is necessary. In some cases, their security experts will advise you that it is not needed. In others, they may think your account is at risk and will ship you a new card.
Getting a new credit card or debit card can be a hassle, but it can save you from unauthorized charges. Even if no activity has taken place, it can still be a good idea to get a new card.
5. Sign up for credit protection
When companies are attacked by hackers, they have a duty to protect their customers. After having information compromised, offering credit protection to consumers is usually part of their settlement. That means you may have free access to credit monitoring services and free credit reports, which can help you track any activity done in your name.
If you shopped or used services with an affected company, contact their customer service to see if they will provide credit protection. Services are generally offered free of charge for up to one year.
A data breach can be a major problem, with long-lasting consequences. Even if you do not see any activity, stay diligent and continually monitor your credit report and accounts. That way, you can catch fraudulent behavior as soon as it occurs, increasing the odds of having it removed from your account.
For more information on managing your credit, check out this article on what should (and shouldn’t) be on your credit report.
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