Anyone can be the victim of a data breach or identity theft. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that there are ways to protect your information from being compromised further. Be on the lookout for changes to listings on your credit reports, charges to your credit cards, “Welcome” letters sent by creditors, and any changes to your credit profile. Take these steps to protect yourself after a data breach to avoid the costly effects that a hack can cause.
1. Freeze Your Credit
You can “freeze” or restrict access to your credit file which makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Notify the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, that you request a credit freeze. There is no cost to place a credit freeze on your file.
Often, identity thieves try to get approval for a new line of credit or loan. If there is a freeze on your credit report, the bank or lender will not be able to access your credit file, keeping the thief from receiving approval for the credit request.
A credit freeze may also block you from access to your credit file. Follow specific steps required by each credit bureau to unfreeze your credit file by contacting:
Equifax: 800-349-9960 Experian: 888-397-3742 Transunion: 888-909-8872
2. Set Up Fraud Alerts
Fraud alerts provide less protection than a freeze but are still a valuable option. Rather than completely blocking companies from seeing your credit report, fraud alerts require identity verification before any further action can occur. Alerts typically expire after 90 days but are free and can be renewed. To request a fraud alert, write to the credit bureau(s) stating the reason for your request.
3. Monitor Your Statements
It’s also a good idea to monitor your account statements for any suspicious charges. Make it a habit to check your monthly statements and that you recognize each transaction and amount. If you notice an error, send a written dispute immediately. Most credit card companies require written disputes within 60 days of an item listed on your statement.
4. Review Credit Reports & Dispute Errors
You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. We recommend that you write a letter to request your reports. Just as you would monitor your monthly statements, look over your credit report carefully and dispute any findings that are incorrect with the credit bureaus.
5. Beware of Scams
Identity thieves can be tricky, so learn how to recognize scams. Scammers often use tax season to target victims. If your information has been compromised, identity thieves could file taxes under your name and claim your refund.
Also, be aware of phishing attempts. Thieves can take advantage of security breaches by pretending to be members of the compromised organization. Be cautious who you give your information to following a data breach, even if the person claims to be trustworthy or knows your personal information. Request that they provide you with written documentation showing who they are, the company they work for, and details that support their request.
6. Sign Up for Account Notifications
As a preventative measure, you can set up text and/or email notifications so that you’re aware when purchases are made on your account. Use these alerts to ensure that you’ve authorized all charges. If a suspicious charge arises, contact your bank or credit card company in writing to report the disputed charge.
7. Change Passwords
Make sure to change your login information on the breached account and any sites using the same information. Using different passwords for your accounts may help prevent other accounts from being hacked.
8. Address the Situation
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between a scam and a legitimate debt collector. When your identity is stolen, take steps to to secure your personal information and your accounts from further abuse.
9. Seek Legal Help
Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that represents victims of identity theft suffering from credit reporting errors and contact from abusive debt collectors. Contact us for a free legal evaluation to determine whether the credit bureaus or debt collectors have violated your consumer rights.