I recently came across frightening statistics on data breaches while doing research for an article. Major data breaches in recent years have been far more frequent and severe than I’d realized. Which got me wondering, what’s a consumer supposed to do after the fact when a major company gets hacked and our information is compromised?
Because when it comes to data breaches, we the consumers are the hapless victims. We often have to have our personal data stored someplace. We have no choice. For example, our health insurance provider was hacked and our social security numbers compromised. There is no way to have a relationship with a health insurance provider and not hand over that kind of personal data like a social security number. It’s required. All we can do is hand it over and hope the company or organization we’ve trusted is extremely diligent in their data security.
And often they’re not…or at least, not enough.
What to do after a data breach
So back to my question: What’s a consumer to do after a data breach in order to protect oneself?
Although information I found on the FTC website is specific to a particular data breach, the advice seems applicable to any data breach. If you haven’t yet received a letter from some company or organization informing you of a data breach, you probably will. So review this advice now, and be ready later if and when you do become a victim.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Put a freeze on your credit so no new accounts can be opened in your name. Do a credit freeze for each of your kids too.
- File your taxes right away each year to ensure no one files a fake return pretending to be you.
- Close any bank or credit accounts and open new ones.
- Keep checking your credit reports.
- Be wary of phone calls that threaten you to pay taxes or debt.
- Change your logins and passwords (something you should do regularly anyway).
- Keep a close eye on your bank accounts.
In addition to this short list above, you can find a longer more detailed list of advice at IdentityTheft.gov.
Be proactive in other ways
In 2014, 17.6 million Americans were the victims of identity theft. That’s 7% of the population. Although you can’t protect yourself from a data breach, you can take proactive steps to decrease the chances that you’ll become one of these victims in other ways. And this might help in the future if your information is compromised as part of a data breach. So be diligent about changing passwords. Check your credit report annually at annualcreditreport.com.
In particular, stay on top of your banking and credit card statements, watching for suspicious activity. I have twice had strange purchases show up, one in my business checking account for medicine, and one in my personal account for jewelry. The first involved a huge amount of money, the second only a few dollars. But both showed my accounts had been compromised and who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t spotted the fraudulent activity right away and notified the bank?
It’s a sad world that we live in when we have to be continually at risk. But decreasing that risk and being prepared to react to it when adversity strikes can help.