Identity theft can happen to anyone. Since more people are going online to shop, bank, file taxes, etc., there’s an increase risk of savvy thieves stealing the personal information of millions of consumers. Even if you’re careful, a thief may be able to attain your information by hacking into the systems of larger businesses, as millions of people learned last year with the Equifax data breach. Cyber breaches increased to 1,093 in 2016, up from 780 in 2015, with most of the breaches impacting medical/health care organizations, education and government/military sectors. As of October 2017, there were 1,056 breaches reported, which exposed more than 171 million records. According to experts, stolen information can sell for more than $30 per identity on the black market. However, in time and frustration alone, it’ll cost a victim much more than that. Stolen information allows thieves to open bank accounts and lines of credit, open new credit cards, get a driver’s license in your name, file taxes to steal your tax refund and more. What can you do if you find out your information has been compromised?
The Rise of data breaches
The Equifax data breach in 2017 showed that even if you’re vigilant about protecting your personal information, it may still be compromised. In this breach, hackers stole information from 143 million Americans, including people’s names , Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver’s license numbers, as well as the credit card numbers of 209,000 people. Thieves were also able to gain access to information from 182,000 individuals who filed credit disputes with Equifax prior to the breach.
Equifax has set up a page for those who may have been impacted: Equifaxsecurity2017.com (opens in a new window). Due to the size of the breach, Equifax made everyone eligible for a year of free credit monitoring.
*Even email providers aren’t safe from data breaches. It’s recently come to light that Yahoo’s 2013 breach, in which names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, passwords and security questions were stolen, impacted all of its three billion users. People were encouraged to change their passwords, as well as their security questions and answers.
What to do if you’re the victim of a data breach:
As we’ve seen, you may not know you’re a victim of a breech until you hear about it on the news. The first thing you should do if you suspect you’re a victim is to check all of your credit reports – Equifax (opens in a new window), Experian (opens in a new window) and Transunion (opens in a new window) – by getting a free report at annualcreditreport.com (opens in a new window). If you’ve already accessed your report this year, you may have to pay a fee.
Next, monitor your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized activity and review each charge carefully. If you find or suspect you’re a victim of fraudulent activity, put a freeze on your credit file. This makes it more difficult for a thief to use your info to open a new account in your name; however, it won’t prevent them from making charges to your current credit accounts. The freeze lasts until you remove it; however, in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, the freeze lasts seven years.
You may also place a fraud alert on your credit file to warn creditors that your identity was stolen. This will prompt them to verify the identity of anyone looking to get credit in your name.
Additionally, file your taxes early to prevent a scammer from filing for you and collecting your refund.
What to do if your information has been stolen:
Although credit card microchips have curtailed counterfeiting, thieves have become focused on opening new accounts with stolen information. More than $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million American consumers in 2016. Identity thieves have stolen more than $107 billion since 2010. If you learn your information has been compromised, here are some steps to take to regain control of your information. In every situation, you’ll want to continue to check your credit report and report any additional unauthorized activity.
If your debit or credit card number has been stolen:
- Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and get a new one.
- Review all of your transactions and call the fraud department if you notice fraudulent charges.
- Update your automatic payments with the card number as soon as it arrives
If your bank account information has been stolen:
- Contact your bank to close your account and open a new one.
- Review your transactions and contact the fraud department to report false charges.
- Update automatic payments with your new information.
If your driver’s license information has been stolen:
- Contact the DMV and report your license stolen. The state may flag the number in case someone tries to use it.
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