How to Protect Your Personal Information after a Data Breach

How to Protect Your Personal Information after a Data Breach

July 17, 2020         Written By Heaven Speirs

Nearly half of American consumers have been victims by a data breach, and 37% of businesses have experienced one in the last year. If you were recently notified of a cybersecurity incident, there are steps you can take to protect your credit and personal information. Read on to learn what to do after a data breach.

Find out What Information Was Compromised

Before you take any action, you need to be well-informed about the data breach. What type of information was compromised during the hack? Are your financial accounts at risk, or was the data mostly contact information? Figure out what type of personal information you need to protect so you do not take unnecessary measures.

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As soon as a data breach takes place that could affect you, request a new credit card. You may be able to do this through your issuer’s customer service department or through the lost/stolen card department. Some companies will charge a small fee for a replacement card, but most will swap cards for you for free.

When you request a new credit card, your old card and its number are destroyed. That means that if a thief tries to use your card in the future, the card will be declined. You will have to wait for the new card to arrive in the mail, so make sure you have money to pay for your purchases during this time.

Note that you may be able to put a hold on your account via your card’s mobile app. This temporarily deactivates the card while you wait for more information about the breach. If you are unsure about the effects of the data breach, you can ‘pause’ the card until you learn more. Once you know for certain that your card data is compromised, request a replacement card.

Monitor Your Financial Accounts and Credit Reports

If your bank or credit card account is vulnerable, watch closely for unauthorized charges. You should do this anyway just as extra protection, but it is especially important after a data breach. Here are some tips to help you monitor your finance:

  • Get in the habit of checking your account once every few days. You could make this part of your morning routine, like checking your email or social media accounts.
  • Sign up for text or email alerts when something is charged to the account. Not all banks will offer this, but these alerts let you know when a new transaction has been made using your card.
  • Use certain cards for certain transactions. For instance, you may use your cash back credit card for food purchases and paying bills. You may use a travel rewards card for all travel-related purchases and for large transactions with high rewards potential. Categorizing your spending will make you more aware when a transaction seems out of place.
  • Familiarize yourself with the mobile app for your credit card and bank account. You might be surprised by what you can do on your phone. Chat with an account specialist, set push alerts for charges, dispute unauthorized purchases, and more.
  • Review your credit card statement before making a payment. If you are a person who just pays your bill without checking it, you may be missing key indicators that your account has been compromised.
  • Don’t fill out applications ‘just because.‘ Credit inquiries impact your credit score and put your information in the hands of more businesses. You can apply for a new credit card or loan as needed, but don’t do so just to see what your options are. This could hinder your credit options in the future.

You also need to keep an eye on your credit report for signs of identity theft. If you notice strange applications for loans or credit cards in your name, file a dispute with the financial institution and with the credit bureaus immediately. It may take some time to get this off your credit report, so it is important to take action quickly.

Keep Track of Your Purchases

Do not just rely on your computer and bank statements to calculate your balance. Keep an accurate account of your charges and payments so you can tell when something is not right. Even a small charge of $1 or $2 could be a sign of a big problem to come. It is a common practice for hackers to make a small charge on a card to verify that the information is still valid. If the transaction goes through, they may follow it with a larger purchase or withdrawal. Alert your card provider at the first sign of an unauthorized charge so they can reimburse your account and change your card.

Accept the Credit Monitoring Offer from the Affected Business

Many businesses will offer free credit monitoring for an extended period of time after a data breach. This is a great opportunity to get extra credit protection without incurring an extra cost. If you already pay for credit monitoring, you may be able to get a reimbursement or an extension on the service you pay for.

If you have the option of a cash settlement or free credit monitoring, do not automatically accept the cash settlement. This is what happened after the Equifax data breach, and many consumers were left disappointed with the results. Equifax was originally promising a $125 cash settlement, but the volume of requests that they had caused that number to shrink significantly. The free credit monitoring had a value of nearly $1,200 because it spanned over the course of four years. Most quality credit monitoring programs cost $15-$25 per month after the introductory period is over. Weigh out your options carefully so you do not miss out on the smarter financial decision.

Change Your PIN and Passwords

Debit cards can be just as vulnerable in data breaches as credit cards. In addition to getting a new card, you should change your PIN so that it cannot be used in the future. It would also be wise to change the passwords for any email address or online account associated with your card. Data breaches can compromise all your identifying information, so take whatever precautions you can to protect this data.

If you have the same email address and password combination for multiple platforms, change the password for every account. Hackers often test login credentials on other platforms. The account that was compromised is not the only one vulnerable after a data breach.

Freeze Your Credit

A credit freeze prevents any accounts from being opened in your name. It is like putting a pause button on your Social Security Number. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay a small fee to freeze your credit. If your information has been heavily compromised though, that small fee will be worth protecting yourself from identity theft. You can remove the freeze once you have new cards, new passwords, new account numbers, and updates on any other pertinent information

Check out What Is a Credit Freeze? to learn more.

Long-Term Precautions to Protect Your Credit and Personal Information

Unfortunately, the affects of a data breach can last for months after the incident. You should always monitor your credit card accounts and bank activity, whether you’ve been involved with a data breach or not. However, you should be particularly mindful of fraudulent activity for at least six months after the incident. Some hackers wait a year or longer before using stolen information, so it is important to remain aware of your account activity.

Be careful about who you trust with your personal information. Instead of lending your credit card to your child, consider getting a separate card that you can track. If something happens with that card, you can cancel or replace it without hurting your primary card. This mentality applies to credit cards, bank information, loan application details, and more. A little extra caution will go a long way.

Additionally, you should check your credit reports once every few months. Pay close attention to the inquiries section. This shows which lenders have pulled your credit information. If you notice unauthorized inquiries, contact the agency who pulled your information, as well as the credit bureau. Find out if there are any false accounts in your name, and request for the inquiry to be removed from your credit report.

Make a habit of changing your passwords every few months. You could do this in a cycle – change your bank password in January, your credit card password in February, your email password in March, your PIN in April. Then repeat once you have completed the cycle. The more varied your information is, the harder it will be for someone to use it without your permission.

Should I Continue Shopping after a Data Breach?

A data breach is certainly a cause for concern, but it should not stop you from living your life. We recommend proceeding with caution and closely watching your financial accounts. You can still shop as normal. Just be aware of what you are spending and where you are spending it. As long as you keep an eye on your bank accounts, credit card accounts and credit reports, you should be able to spot and resolve a problem early.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of July 17, 2020. For up-to-date information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website. Many of the offers on this article are from our affiliate partners, and LowCards.com may be compensated if you take action with any of our affiliate partners.

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heaven

About Heaven Speirs

Heaven Speirs is a contributing writer for LowCards.com. She remains up-to-date with the latest developments in the credit card industry and the financial sector as a whole. Heaven has over 10 years of experience in online journalism, the bulk of which has been focused on personal finance. Heaven attended Oklahoma State University, where she discovered her talent for research and content creation. In her spare time, Heaven enjoys painting, playing poker, and spending time with her husband and three dogs.