Tips:  What to do When You Get a “Data Breach” Notice

Have you shopped at a big store where someone has stolen a lot of customer debit, credit or prepaid card information? This kind of theft is called a “data breach.” Sometimes it is called a “security breach.”  This means that private financial information, or data, may have been stolen from you. If this happens, you may get a “data breach notice” from the store letting you know that your information may have been stolen.

Below we explain what to do if this happened to you and how to protect yourself.

The Risks:  After a data breach, someone may be able to use your credit, debit or prepaid card information to buy something on your account without your permission. Someone could also use your information to open new credit accounts in your name.

5 important ways to protect yourself:

  1. Make sure any data breach notice you receive is real

If you get an email or phone call telling you that there was a data breach and that someone might have your information, write down the information they give you and do not give out any information. Do not click on any email links or press numbers on a phone call that you did not initiate. Close your email or hang up the phone. Then, call the bank or retailer yourself.

This is important because someone might be emailing or calling you to get more personal information from you or to rip you off. Do not do anything until you know exactly what happened. If your information really is at risk, follow the steps described below.

  1. Watch your accounts closely
    If your credit, debit or prepaid card information is stolen, start checking all of your accounts carefully. Look for charges you don’t recognize. If you spot something strange, call your credit, debit or prepaid card company, or bank, right away. Make sure to keep watching your accounts in the future. Sometimes the people who stole your information will wait for you to stop watching, and then they will steal more in the future.
  1. Get new cards

If there was a breach with your debit, prepaid or credit card, you may want to get a new card with a new account number. This will keep your account from being used without your permission. If you do get a new card, make sure to change any automatic payments to your new card so that you aren’t charged for missed or late payments. 

  1. Consider a fraud alert

If you set up a fraud alert, that means that anyone who might issue a new credit card in your name would need to take extra steps to verify your identity first. This can help protect you against someone opening up a new account in your name without your permission. But — a fraud alert won’t tell you if someone is making charges to your current accounts, so you’ll need to keep watching your current accounts closely.

It’s free to set up a fraud alert online: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0275-place-fraud-alert.  A fraud alert lasts 90 days, but you can renew it if you want to keep it going.

If you are really worried, consider a security freeze. A freeze means that a credit bureau will flag your credit file so that no one can view your credit report without your permission and issue a new credit account in your name. You can find out more about both here: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0279-extended-fraud-alerts-and-credit-freezes

  1. Sign-up for free credit monitoring if it’s offered

This is an ongoing review of your credit history that a credit reporting bureau does.  Doing this won’t let you know if someone is using your existing accounts without your permission, but they will let you know if someone opened a new account in your name.

For the PDF format,  click here.

 

Updated November 20, 2014