Worried about Identity Theft? Critical Next Steps If You Are Involved in a Data Breach
It is the notification no one wants to get – finding out your data is part of a larger breach is frightening to say the least. Being notified of a security breach conjures up images of identity theft, tax fraud and hacking, and if those fears come to fruition, you could spend countless hours, and thousands of pounds, trying to recover your good name.
While you may not be able to stop the next data breach from happening, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. If you move fast and take the right steps, you could prevent a data breach from becoming an identity theft disaster. Here are some critical next steps if you are involved in a data breach.
Step 1 – Gather as Much Information as You Can
The first thing you should do in the wake of a data breach is gather as much information as you can. What company was involved in the data breach, what kind of information was stolen and when did the breach take place? The more information you gather, the easier it will be for you to fight back.
If the data breach took place some time ago and you are only now being notified, much of the damage may already have been done. If the data breach is an old one, which is not an uncommon occurrence, it is time to check your credit reports and perhaps put a freeze on your credit. If the data breach is more recent, you may still have time to limit the fallout, starting with the steps listed below.
Step 2 – Change Your Password at the Affected Site
Once you know which site, or sites, were affected, the first thing you should do is change your password. Be sure to update your credentials, making your new password as different from the old one as possible.
Do not simply assume that the bad guys already have your password – that may not be the case. At the very least, updating your credentials will give you peace of mind, so there is no reason not to do it.
Step 3 – Change Credentials for Websites that Use the Same Password
Security experts have long warned users to use a different password on every website they visit, but few actually take that advice. Chances are you use the same password, or a light variation, for many different websites, and that can make a single data breach a global problem.
Think about the various websites and online retailers where you used the same password or something similar. Armed with that list, take the time to update your credentials for each of those sites – you can never be too careful in a dangerous online world.
Step 4 – Add a Fraud Alert to Your Credit File
Being involved in a data breach puts you at increased risk of identity theft and the fraudulent use of your credit, so let the credit reporting agencies know about the issue. Adding a fraud alert to your credit file is easy to do, and it provides an extra level of protection against identity theft and other serious repercussions of a data breach.
The fraud alert is only temporary, but you can choose to renew it when it expires. Be sure to note the date when you initiate the fraud alert, and set a reminder for its renewal.
Step 5 – Consider Freezing Your Credit
Placing a fraud alert on your credit file will provide some protection, but freezing your credit can protect you even more. But before you take that step, keep in mind that a credit freeze comes with some inconveniences.
Once you freeze your credit, no one, including you, will be able to open a new account or initiate an inquiry into your credit. If you are in the middle of shopping for a mortgage or negotiating a car loan, a credit freeze might cause more problems than it solves.
Step 6 – Take Advantage of Free Credit Monitoring
In many cases, impacted consumers will be offered free credit monitoring in the wake of a data breach. It may not make up for the inconvenience, and it will not alleviate the fear you feel, but free credit monitoring can protect you in the weeks and months to come.
If free credit monitoring is offered, make sure you know how it works and how to sign up. Once you are signed up, you should receive notifications of accounts opened in your name, your data being found on the dark web and any other signs of identity theft.
Data breaches are not going away, and it is important to protect yourself and your personal information. Given the inherent dangers of the online world and the ubiquity of the internet, the best thing you can do is be aware and take proactive steps to protect yourself. What you do in the wake of a data breach notification can make all the difference, and the faster you move, the better.