Protecting Consumers Against Data Breaches

The possibility of the average consumer becoming a victim of a data breach grows with each new advancement in the electronic age.

A data breach occurs when sensitive or confidential information—driver’s license numbers, medical records, Social Security numbers, bank or credit card account numbers—is stolen, copied or used by an unauthorized person.

As recently as 2004, only one state required businesses to alert consumers if their personal data had been stolen. Since then, legislation has passed in 45 additional states to ensure that affected consumers be contacted should their personal information be lost or stolen.

While the news media provides a welcome window for reporting the major breaches affecting millions of accounts, it’s not always large companies suffering from such thefts. The perpetrator could be an employee, a partner or an external person, such as a computer hacker.

But, there are steps that can be taken at the consumer level to protect against a personal data breach.

  • Take the time to review credit card and bank statements for fraudulent charges on your accounts at least monthly. With online access to accounts, it is easier than ever to check transactions and you’d be wise to check your statement more often than monthly. Contact the financial institution immediately if there is a suspicious charge and report it.
  • Request that the financial institution close any accounts that you suspect were compromised and ask for replacement cards with new account numbers and PINs.
  • Determine if there have been any unusual requests such as change-of-address or attempts to secure additional or replacement credit cards.
  • Instruct the card issuer not to honor any requests regarding your card without your written authorization.
  • Credit card issuers offer a variety of email and/or text notices. You can ask for a notice when charges over a certain amount are made or when your balance reaches a certain level.

If you have been the victim of identity theft, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—and place a security freeze on your account. With a freeze in place, the information in your credit report will not be released to anyone, making it almost impossible for an identity thief to open a new account in your name. If you wish to apply for a new loan or credit card, you will need to temporarily lift the freeze by providing a password.

Report the identity theft to the police, as you may need to provide a copy of the police report to your bank, creditors and credit reporting agencies. If the local police are not familiar with investigating information compromises, contact the local office of the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service.

To ensure that an identity thief has not opened a new account in your name, you should review your credit report. To obtain a free copy of the report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com . If there are any accounts on your report that you did not open, contact the credit bureau to report the fraud and dispute the charges.