If you’re like most people, you share your personal information with a number of companies and service providers, from banks to social media sites. And even if you’re careful, what happens if there is a weak link and your personal data is either stolen or leaked? That’s when you need to know how to minimize the damage.
The recent high-profile breach of credit reporting agency Equifax, in which data on over 145 million customers was potentially revealed, served as a wakeup call to many people who suddenly had to scramble to keep their data safe. After all, much of their sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses were potentially exposed to scammers and identity thieves.
If you get caught in a situation like this, simply lose your wallet, or just want to take preventative measures, here is what to do next:
1) Place a Fraud Alert—If you know your data has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit so that any new or recent requests undergo scrutiny. This also entitles you to extra copies of your credit report so you can check for anything suspicious. If you find an account you did not open, report it to the police or Federal Trade Commission, as well as the creditor involved so you can close the fraudulent account. Then, make sure you correct your credit report by filing a dispute with each of the three credit bureaus.
2) Freeze Your Credit—This allows you to seal your credit reports so no one else can take out new accounts or loans in your name. You can do this without impacting your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. If you want to apply for services or open new accounts, you can temporarily “unfreeze” your credit using a personal identification code only you have.
For this to be truly effective, however, you need to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion & Experian). They usually charge a small fee both to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
3) Setup Alerts & Stay Vigilante—Many banks and credit card companies have begun offering free alerts to notify you via text message or email when new purchases are made, when there is an unusual charge, or when your account balance drops to a certain level, for example. Make sure you take advantage of these services to keep a close eye on your accounts. You’ll also want to review your statements regularly for any suspicious activity.
4) Consider Identity Theft Protection—An identity theft protection service can monitor your accounts, alert you of potential problems, insure you against ID theft, and even help you regain your money and credit if something goes wrong.
5) Lock Down Your Information—While there’s not a lot you can do to prevent data leaks that may occur with companies that have access to your information, you can take steps to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep your information safe.
Make sure the privacy settings on your social media accounts and mobile apps are as strong as possible and commit to multi-factor authentication on your critical accounts, such as online banking. This means you have to take multiple steps to verify your identity before logging into an account, such as entering a passcode and then responding to a text message sent to your phone.
Be careful about how much personal information you share online and never respond to emails or text messages requesting sensitive data, unless you know and trust the source.