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What is a data breach and what should you do?

It can be nerve-wracking when a company you’ve done business with reports a data breach.

Did my personal information get stolen? Will crooks use my credit or debit card numbers? What should I do?

The bad news is, you could become a victim of identity theft or fraud, which happens when stolen data is actually used to do things such as make purchases or take out a loan in your name.

However, a breach doesn’t mean you will become a victim. That’s because a data breach occurs when sensitive customer information may have been exposed through either theft or by accident, but it doesn’t mean the data will actually be used.

At the very least, you should take precautions if a company informs you of a breach or if you see it in news reports.

Data that is stolen or lost might never be used, because it either has been encrypted and is inaccessible to the crooks, or because they see no value in it.

After a breach, many companies will alert you about the issue and might even offer you free credit monitoring services to help identity suspicious activity.

Once you know your data might have been exposed, experts recommend you do the following things:

  • Change the password you use with that company right away, and if you use the same password for all online accounts, change those as well. To beef up protection, you should use a different password for each of your accounts.
  • Regularly check your financial and credit card accounts for suspicious transactions. Online and mobile banking let you monitor these accounts day or night and you can even set up alerts that will notify you of suspicious activity either via text or email. Report any concerns immediately.
  • Check your credit report to see if anyone has attempted to get credit in your name. This can be done for free at each of the major credit bureaus once a year by starting at annualcreditreport.comOpens in New Window.

Keep this in mind when you hear about a data breach: It doesn’t’ necessarily mean you will become an identity theft victim, but it does mean you should take precautions to protect yourself.

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