Education Center

Reduce the risk of identity theft

How to Respond to a Personal Information Data Breach

In this day and age of electronic information, online credit applications, and mobile financial information, it’s easier than ever for someone to steal an identity and start running up high bills. You may be aware of the risk, but you may not be sure what steps you can take to protect your own assets and investments from identity thieves. The most powerful tool in your arsenal is knowledge, and here’s what you need to know about data breaches.

Defining the Personal Information Data Breach

The Identify Theft Resource Center clearly identifies any breach as an incident in which a person’s name is put at risk along with other key information. This information can be anything from medical records, driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers to financial records like credit card information. Once a criminal has this information in hand, it’s not difficult to start piecing together other facts off public records, including current address and date of birth. In a matter of days or even hours, the hacker can have all the information they require to commit fraud.

The Difference from Personal Information and Financial Breaches

With a financial information breach, the hackers may gain access to account information without having any other corresponding data. This is seen in incidents like the Target breach where criminals may obtain credit card numbers and expiration dates without necessarily having the corresponding consumer information. In these cases, the financial institution bears the greatest risk as they will have to bear the cost of fraudulent charges. With personal information breaches, it is ultimately the consumer who will have to bear the cost of charges as they try to dispute expenses and reclaim their credit reports.

Another important difference between the two types of breaches lies with the notification process. In most financial data breaches, the company is aware of the problem immediately and will notify consumers. Typically, they’ll send out new credit cards and provide all affected consumers with six months of complimentary credit monitoring. In the case of a personal data breach from an unknown source, most people only find out about the problem when the hacker has effectively stolen their identity, opened new credit accounts and caused other problems.

The Damage is Far Reaching

It’s important to note that criminals don’t even need a complete profile on you to start getting credit in your name. They may give the police your identity when they’re arrested for crimes, including charges that would normally land a person on the sex offender registry. People can get payday loans without providing a Social Security number. They may also put a change of address form in with the post office to start redirecting your mail to another location. From this point, it becomes an easy matter for them to gather more information and take over your identity more thoroughly.

What You Can Do

The simple truth is that you cannot completely protect yourself from identity thieves. There are too many moving parts to the puzzle and far too many opportunities for people to gain access to bits and pieces of your information. With so much of your life on public record, they won’t even have to work very hard to get non-sensitive information that they can use to start the process. However, there are steps you can take to decrease the risk and turn your life into a less appealing target. These include:

  • Keeping sensitive information under lock and key at home, and only carrying what you absolutely need with you. This means that your Social Security card and extra credit cards should be left at home in a lockbox. All mail should be shredded rather than going straight into the trash can.
  • Be leery about giving out any personal information over the phone. If a company calls you asking for information, you should end the conversation, call the number listed on your last statement, and then call them back to discuss the situation.
  • Choose better passwords that use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Sign up for a monitoring service that will look at non-credit report information as well as the big three reporting agencies.

When it comes to identity theft, it’s important to remember that no one is completely safe from this potential crime. While you can make yourself less of a target, you should still be diligent and check your credit reports regularly. You should also keep an eye out for warning signs such as multiple tax returns being filed, missing mail, collection notices for accounts you never opened, and the rejection of medical claims. With some due diligence on your part, it is possible to protect your life and your assets from this crime.

We welcome comments and questions in the section below. Please share this article if you think it may be helpful for someone else, or visit our identity theft education center for more information about protecting yourself from a personal information data breach.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal issues or financial issues involved with credit decisions.

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