The latest data breach: What if it happens to you?
Last updated: January 1
News of recent data breaches, from those at national retailers to governmental and educational institutions, seems to pop up frequently these days. Like it or not, the potential effects of data breaches can force us to stay on top of our personal information more than ever.
Learn what a data breach is and get some tips on how to protect yourself if your personal information is compromised.
What should I do if I'm notified of a recent data breach?
If you've been notified that your personal information has been exposed in a company's data breach, consider taking the following steps:
Keep close tabs on your accounts
Scrutinize your bank and credit card statements on a regular basis, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), identifying any inaccuracies and disputing them immediately.
Watch out for suspicious activity on your credit report
An annual examination of your credit report can highlight suspicious activity — such as accounts that may have been opened without your knowledge. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three major credit reporting companies to provide consumers with one free credit report every year. The official site is www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you suspect you've been the target of fraud, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests immediately placing a fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting agencies. The alert is sent to all three credit reporting agencies and lasts for at least one year, according to the FTC. The alert ensures that any company must verify your identity before issuing credit — making it that much harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name.
Dispute credit report inaccuracies
Consumers should dispute any potential inaccuracies with their credit reports as soon as they're spotted, according to the FTC. Start by filing a credit report dispute. The organization or agency named in your dispute must investigate and respond to your request, says the FTC. If there is no response or the issuer is unable to verify authenticity, the disputed information will be removed from your report. If it is verified as accurate, it will remain on your report.
Submit an identity theft report
If your personal information has been compromised, file a complaint with the FTC. The FTC Complaint Assistant includes an option for consumers whose personal information was disclosed due to a company's data breach. Take the completed complaint, called an FTC affidavit, to the police department and file a police report. The affidavit and police report make up your identity theft report.
Next, alert your financial institutions. Most credit companies encourage customers to call their toll-free numbers as soon as possible to report fraud. Ask if your bank has a process in place to put a fraud alert on your account.
Consider an identity protection plan
An identity protection plan may help proactively monitor your personal information. You may want to consider enrolling in this type of service to help watch your personal information going forward. And, if your identity is compromised a protection plan can also help with remediation.
Data breaches can happen, but taking these steps can help protect your identity and your personal information in case you're ever affected by one