What To Do If Your Data Has Been Breached
With our modern dependence on technology, it’s no wonder that data breaches have become relatively common in today’s world. There have been 9,044 public breaches since 2005, which have led to more than 10 billion records being stolen. When banks or other businesses are hacked and data is breached, large numbers of individuals can be negatively impacted.
If you’re the victim of a data breach, you may feel violated and scared. When your personal information is stolen, it can affect you financially or personally for years to come. Having a quick plan of action can help mitigate the negative effects and work to ensure you are protected in the future.
Determine What Was Stolen
If you think you may have been the victim of a data breach, it’s important to investigate what type of information may have been exposed or stolen. If an online account was hacked, consider what data you may have saved on your profile. It may have simply been your address and phone number or you may have saved payment information, including your credit card number.
If you were the victim of a company-wide data breach, contact the company to ask about what was compromised. The company should be able to provide details on the types of information that were obtained, such as your Social Security number or medical records. It’s important to know exactly what was stolen, since it affects the way you handle the breach and who you contact to potentially resolve the situation.
Gauge the Value of What Was Stolen
When you know what data was stolen, you can gauge how valuable the information is. If the information wasn’t very sensitive, such as your address or name, there may not be too many negative impacts.
However, if extremely sensitive or important information was stolen, such as your Social Security number, intellectual or creative work, or credit card information, you may have a bigger problem. You may be at heightened risk of identity theft and need to freeze your credit reports and talk to your banks and credit card companies.
Worse Case Scenario: Identity Theft
If you suspect the data breach was severe and your identity may have been stolen, it’s crucial that you pay close attention to your finances and other aspects of your life. When your personal information is breached, debt can easily be amassed in your name.
Check on your credit report and consider whether you’ve received calls from debt collectors that are unfounded. If you see erroneous records on your report or you suspect credit cards have been taken out in your name, you’ll need to address the situation as soon as possible. If debt collectors are harassing you for debts that don’t sound familiar, it might be a red flag that your identity has been stolen.
Even if massive debts were wrongfully collected using your identity, you don’t necessarily need to immediately file for bankruptcy. There are bankruptcy laws that protect against identity theft and may allow your debt to be forgiven.
Change and Strengthen Logins, Passwords, and Security Q&A
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a data breach, it’s crucial to change your passwords and login information immediately. If a thief has your current password and access to your account, changing your account information as quickly as possible may lock them out before they can take more sensitive information.
If the website you’re dealing with offers a two-step authentication system, opt-in. This type of system offers an additional security element that a thief may not be able to get around. For example, it may send a code to your phone that must be entered before allowing your account to be accessed.
Change your passwords and be sure to make them unique. Include special characters or random words that don’t relate to your birthdate, address, or name. If possible, change your account name as an added security measure. Once you log in, check your account details to ensure someone hasn’t already gained access and changed your information.
If you find yourself locked out of accounts or if you’re receiving emails that your account has been accessed on different devices, it’s a sign that you may have already been hacked. Attempt to regain access to these accounts and change the password yourself as soon as possible.
Contact the Right People and Institutions
If you know sensitive information such as your Social Security number or credit card information was stolen, remain diligent. Contact the people and institutions related to the information stolen.
Even if there hasn’t been any illegal activity yet, informing these institutions about the potential of identity theft can help if something fishy does occur. Keeping these people and institutions aware of your situation allows them to monitor your account more closely for suspicious behavior.
If your credit card information was compromised, contact the credit card company immediately. They may be able to cancel your current card and send you a new one with a different number, prohibiting the thieves from accessing your account.
If your Social Security number was taken in a large data breach, the company that was victimized may offer you free credit tracking. Take advantage of this offer so you can keep a close eye on your credit report and report any fraudulent activity as soon as it occurs. There may be a lawsuit filed against the company that experienced the breach, so it’s important to stay abreast of the latest legal proceedings.
Freezing your credit bureau accounts may also be helpful in protecting your identity if your Social Security number was stolen. When you have a freeze on your credit, no one can open a new account in your name. This prevents the thief from using your identity to open new credit card accounts.
If your driver’s license number was stolen, contact your local motor vehicle department. You may need to have your current driver’s license canceled and apply for a new number. This also helps prevent the thief from using your driver’s license number in an identity theft scam.
Long after a data breach has occurred, it’s still important to stay alert and monitor your financial wellbeing, credit report, healthcare records, and driver’s license status. Pay attention to debt collectors that call, pending lawsuits that were filed against you, or any unwarranted changes to your credit score. These are signs that you might have been the victim of identity theft.
A data breach can compromise your credit score, financial situation, and identity. If you’ve been the victim of one, you may need to request legal help to mitigate the situation. By changing your passwords quickly, notifying the proper institutions, and remaining alert, you can help minimize the damage a data breach may cause.