How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft After a Data Breach

Did you just get word that your personal information may have been caught up in a data breach? If so, you can take steps to protect yourself from harm should your info get into the hands of a scammer or thief. 

How does that information get collected in the first place? We share personal information with companies for multiple reasons simply by going about our day—to pay for takeout at our favorite restaurant, to check into a hotel, or to collect rewards at the local coffee shop. Of course, we use our credit and debit cards too, sometimes as part of an online account that tracks our purchase history.  

In other words, we leave trails of data practically wherever we go these days, and that data is of high value to hackers. Thus, all those breaches we read about.  

Data breaches are a (sad) fact of life  

Whether it’s a major breach that exposes millions of records or one of many other smaller-scale breaches like the thousands that have struck healthcare providers, each one serves as a reminder that data breaches happen regularly and that we could find ourselves affected. Depending on the breach and the kind of information you’ve shared with the business or organization in question, information stolen in a breach could include:  

  • Usernames and passwords  
  • Email addresses  
  • Phone numbers and home addresses  
  • Contact information for friends and family members  
  • Birthdays and driver’s license numbers  
  • Credit and debit card numbers or bank account details  
  • Purchase history and account activity  
  • Social security numbers  

What do crooks do with that data? Several things. Apart from using it themselves, they may sell that data to other criminals. Either way, this can lead to illicit use of credit and debit cards, draining of bank accounts, claiming tax refunds or medical expenses in the names of the victims, or, in extreme cases, assuming the identity of others altogether.   

Examples of data breaches over the recent years  

In all, data is a kind of currency in of itself because it has the potential to unlock several aspects of victim’s life, each with its own monetary value. It’s no wonder that big breaches like these have made the news over the years, with some of the notables including:  

  • U-Haul – 2022: A breach which accessed their customer contracts system between November 2021 and April 2022 exposed the names, driver’s license numbers, and state ID numbers of 2.2 million renters.  
  • Los Angeles Unified School District – 2022: Hackers released 500 GB of highly sensitive information after a breach and when their subsequent ransomware demands were not met, exposing Social Security and passport numbers, health information, and psychological assessments of some students. 
  • Facebook – 2021: Two sets of data exposed the records of more than 530 million users, including phone numbers, account names, and Facebook IDs. According to Facebook, the source of the breach dated back to 2019, at which time the flaw was remedied, even though the information was exposed in 2021. 
  • Marriott International (Starwood) – 2018: Half a million guests had names, email and physical mailing addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers, Starwood Preferred Guest account information, dates of birth, and other information about their stays exposed.  
  • Equifax – 2017: Some 147 million records that included names, addresses, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, and Social Security Numbers were exposed, along with a relatively small subset of 200,000 victims having their credit card information exposed as well.  

As mentioned, these are big breaches with big companies that we likely more than recognize. Yet smaller and mid-sized businesses are targets as well, with some 43% of data breaches involving companies of that size. Likewise, restaurants and retailers have seen their Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals compromised, right on down to neighborhood restaurants.  

Staying secure in light of data breaches  

When a company experiences a data breach, customers need to realize that this could impact their online safety. If your favorite coffee shop’s customer database gets leaked, there’s a chance that your personal or financial information was exposed. However, this doesn’t mean that your online safety is doomed. If you think you were affected by a breach, you can take several steps to protect yourself from the potential side effects.   

1. Keep an eye on your bank and credit card accounts 

One of the most effective ways to determine whether someone is fraudulently using one or more of your accounts is to check your statements. If you see any charges that you did not make, report them to your bank or credit card company immediately. They have processes in place to handle fraud. While you’re with them, see if they offer alerts for strange purchases, transactions, or withdrawals.  

Our credit monitoring service can help you keep an eye on this. It monitors changes to your credit score, report, and accounts with timely notifications and guidance so you can take action to tackle identity theft. 

2. Monitor your identity with the help of a service

Breached and stolen information often ends up in dark web marketplaces where hackers, scammers, and thieves purchase it to commit yet more crime. Once it was difficult to know if your information was caught up in such marketplaces, yet now an identity monitoring service can do the detective work for you. 

Our service monitors the dark web for your personal info, including email, government IDs, credit card and bank account info, and more. This can help keep your personal info safe with early alerts that show you if your data is found on the dark web, an average of 10 months ahead of similar services.​ From there, you’ll get guidance that you can act on, which can help protect your info and accounts from theft. 

3. Place a fraud alert

If you suspect that your data might have been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit. This not only ensures that any new or recent requests undergo scrutiny, but also allows you to have extra copies of your credit report so you can check for suspicious activity. You can place one fraud alert with any of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and they will notify the other two. A fraud alert typically lasts for a year, although there are options for extending it as well.  

4. Look into freezing your credit if needed 

Freezing your credit will make it highly difficult for criminals to take out loans or open new accounts in your name, as a freeze halts all requests to pull your credit—even legitimate ones. In this way, it’s a far stronger measure than placing a fraud alert. Note that if you plan to take out a loan, open a new credit card, or other activity that will prompt a credit report, you’ll need to take extra steps to see that through while the freeze is in place. (The organization you’re working with can assist with the specifics.) Unlike the fraud alert, you’ll need to contact each major credit reporting agency to put one in place. Also, a freeze lasts as long as you have it in place. You’ll have to remove it yourself, again with each agency.  

You can centrally manage this process with our security freeze service, which stops companies from looking at your credit profile, and thus halts the application process for loans, credit cards, utilities, new bank accounts, and more. A security freeze won’t affect your credit score. ​ 

5. Update your passwords 

Ensure that your passwords are strong and unique. Many people utilize the same password or variations of it across all their accounts. Therefore, be sure to diversify your passcodes to ensure hackers cannot obtain access to all your accounts at once, should one password be compromised. You can also employ a password manager to keep track of your credentials, such as the one you’ll find in comprehensive online protection software.  

6. Consider taking out identity theft coverage 

If the unfortunate happens to you, an identity theft coverage & restoration service can help you get back on your feet. Ours offers $1 million in coverage for lawyer fees, travel expenses, and stolen funds reimbursement. It further provides support from a licensed recovery expert who can take the needed steps to repair your identity and credit. In all, it helps you recover the costs of identity theft along with the time and money it takes to recover from it. 

7. Clean up your personal data online

You can take this step any time, even if you haven’t been caught up in a data breach. The fact is that data broker companies collect and sell thousands of pieces of information on millions and millions of people worldwide, part of a global economy estimated at $200 billion U.S. dollars a year. And they’ll sell it to anyone—from advertisers for their campaigns, to scammers who will use it for spammy emails, texts, and calls, and to thieves who use that information for identity theft.  

Yet you can clean it up. Our personal data cleanup service can scan some of the riskiest data broker sites and show you which ones are selling your personal info. It also provides guidance on how you can remove your data from those sites and, with select products, even manage the removal for you. 

8. Use online protection software and expand your security toolbox 

Comprehensive online protection software will offer you the tools and services listed above, along with further features that can protect you online. That includes a VPN to keep your time online more private from online data collection while protecting it from thieves who’re out to steal credit card and account information. It also includes web browsing protection that can warn you of sketchy websites and malicious downloads that look to steal your information. In all, it’s thorough protection for your devices, privacy, and identity. And in a time of data breaches, that kind of protection has become essential.   

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