Recent months have been full of news of data security breaches. The recent spate of security breaches started with Target, but there have been other incidents in recent weeks, including hobby chain Michaels and the upscale retailer Neiman Marcus.
The worst part about these data security breaches is the fact that there isn’t a whole lot you can do — unless you completely stop using your credit cards and debit cards, and you stop shopping online. Even being on a mailing list can result in identity fraudsters getting a hold of your name and address, and then using that information to attempt to steal your identity.
Officials are ramping up efforts to force retailers to let consumers know about these data security breaches in a timely manner, so there is a good chance that you will be notified when your information is exposed.
Once you understand that there is a data breach compromising your information, it’s time to take action. Here are 5 things to do if you are a victim of a data security breach:
1. Check Your Statements
You should be checking your statements regularly any way, but it’s especially important after a data security breach. Keep an eye on purchases, and make sure that there are no unexpected transactions.
If you don’t want to wait for your statement, go ahead and log on to your online account management to keep up with new transactions. The faster you identify fraudulent charges, the faster you can move on to step two.
2. Report Fraudulent Transactions
When you notice transactions that shouldn’t be there, you need to report them ASAP. Realize that your $0 fraud liability might be different with a debit card than with a credit card. Your reporting window might be smaller with a debit card, so you really need to be on top of it.
The faster you report fraudulent transactions, the sooner you can get things cleared up, and get your money back.
3. Get a New Account Number
If you’ve been a victim of identity fraud, it’s time to get a new account number so that the transactions can stop. Most issuers will give you a new account number — and a card to go with it free of charge — as soon as you report a fraudulent transaction.
Even if you haven’t noticed fraudulent activity on your card, it might be worth it to get a new account number anyway if you have been involved in a security breach. Sometimes, fraudsters will wait a few months before using the information obtained. It’s better to just get a new account number now, rather than be forced into it later. Getting it over with can be one way to proactively avoid problems later.
4. Check Your Credit Report
In some data security breaches, card information isn’t taken. Instead, information that can be used to open new accounts is taken. This means that you need to check your credit report to find out if someone has been opening fraudulent credit accounts in your name.
You can check your credit report from each bureau for free once a year with the help of AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s also possible to pay for your credit report from the bureaus. All of them offer three-in-one products that can allow you to look at everything all at once.
You should dispute any fraudulent accounts immediately so that they can be removed from your report. If you are really concerned, you can also place a freeze on your credit report in order avoid more accounts being opened without your consent.
5. Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
Target is offering free credit monitoring for a year following its data breach. If this is offered to you, it makes sense to accept. You will receive alerts when something new happens with your credit, so you can take care of it quickly.
Even if you aren’t offered free credit monitoring, it might make sense to sign up for credit monitoring services. While you can monitor your own credit without the help of these services, the reality is that you are likely to forget. Signing up for a service can provide you with peace of mind, without the need for you to constantly check your situation.