By Nikki Igbo
By now, most, if not all have heard about the Equifax data breach in which hackers gained access to potentially 143 million consumers’ sensitive data including social security numbers and driver’s license numbers. Based in Atlanta, Equifax is the oldest of the three biggest American consumer credit reporting agencies. Its breach did not take place in a vacuum.
Arby’s, a national fast food chain, had malware placed on payment systems at various locations. Dun & Bradstreet leaked personal contact information on millions of employees at U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Postal Service, CVS Health, Wal-Mart and AT&T. Nearly 5 million users ofAmerica’s JobLink across ten states had personal information compromised. Identity thieves also snatched personal information for up to 100,000 taxpayers through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool which is used to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Those are just a few examples from 2017 alone.
Last year, consumers lost nearly $16 billion as a result of identity theft and fraud.Obviously, data breaches can be expected to be a regular occurrence in our brave, new digitized world. But you don’t have to sit back and wait to be victimized. Here are steps you can take to protect yourself after (and sometimes before) a breach occurs.
- Keep a close watch over your finances. You should always keep track of what is moving in and out of your bank and credit card accounts. Match your receipts to your account ledgers daily and weekly; keep an eye out for oddities or discrepancies. Whether hackers are afoot or not, banks often make mistakes. You can even sign up for a credit or identity-monitoring service to make supervision easier.
- Take inventory of what was stolen. If a breach has occurred, make sure you know exactly what was stolen. If it was a simple leak of names or mailing addresses then you have nothing to worry about. A stolen email address will likely result in increased spam. Birth dates and drivers’ license numbers can be sensitive if taken along with your name and other contact information. Stolen payment cards and/or social security numbers will definitely require more action and attention on your part.
- Change/update your passwords. Any compromised account passwords should be changed immediately. Make sure you always create strong passwords which contain at least 15 characters and include all four types of characters (upper-case letters, lower-case letters, punctuation marks/special characters, numerals). Do not use names, birthdays or references to any personal interest that are potentially easy to guess. Never reuse passwords for multiple accounts.
- Alert any relevant financial institutions. If your payment card information was stolen, contact the issuer and understand that you are not liable. More often than not, you will receive a call or notice from your card issuer if they notice suspicious activity first. Any fraudulent charges made against your card will be negated and you’ll be issued a new card. You’ll also want to contact credit reporting agencies to make sure your credit score is not adversely affected.
- Make any necessary reports to the proper authorities. If your social security number has been compromised, then you’ll want to notify Equifax, TransUnionand Experian(credit reporting agencies), the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, your local police (if you want a new social security number), and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (who can alert all other law enforcement agencies).
Have you had to deal with identity theft or a breach or your personal information?
Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.