What if someone violated your privacy and you didn’t even know it? A data breach can result in identity theft and other financial headaches. Luckily, most consumers receive notification when their private data is hacked or otherwise compromised. But one recent study shows that most consumers don’t act on this information when they get it.

Would you act quickly if you found out your data had been compromised? Identity theft and related financial fraud is a serious risk. It’s very important for consumers to know how to protect themselves (and their credit reports) when hackers make off with their personal info.

Let’s talk a bit more about what goes into a data breach, and what you can do when it happens to you.


Your Private Data is Everywhere

Your personal information isn’t just stored on your personal computer or your home safe. These days, valuable personal data is just about everywhere. The credit card company’s got it. Your bank has it. Heck, if you play video games, PlayStation and/or XBox has it.

The digital age has made more and more information remotely accessible — everything from phone numbers and addresses (both email and physical) to credit card information and social security numbers. Private data that used to live in a file cabinet is now drifting in “the cloud.”

All this data is stored on different servers in a number of different places, depending on factors like your online shopping habits. What this means is that an identity thief doesn’t have to break into your home anymore in order to steal your personal data.

Instead, clever hackers can steal your data, along with everyone else’s, by hacking into a credit card database or a streaming video service like VuDu — both of which happened last year.

Even more alarming is the fact that, as of 2012, about half of all fraud victims had received a data breach notification in the same year that the fraudulent activity occurred. What does this mean, exactly?

The New York Times clarifies:

“The fraud in question usually involves using the stolen information to create a new account in your name, or to gain illegal access to an existing account.”


A Data Breach and You: How to Protect Yourself

Recent studies have shown that consumers aren’t taking enough action when they receive warnings about a recent data breach. So what should you do when you find out a hacker may have accessed your identity?

A color photo of a MasterCard and some one dollar bills.

Alert your credit card company after a data breach, so they can watch out for suspicious activity.

First and foremost, if your data has been breached, get some identity protection. Sometimes a company will offer you protection for free but even if you have to pay for it yourself, it may be worth the value. (Just make sure you read the fine print very carefully before you sign up for any protection service, to avoid hidden fees.)

Once you’ve done this, contact your bank and credit card companies to make sure there’s no recent suspicious activity. You can also ask them to monitor your accounts and to let you know if they see any transactions or activity that appears fraudulent. Some banks even offer text message alerts.

If your social security number was compromised, you can put fraud alert on your credit file. The credit freeze is an even more robust option to prevent anyone opening new accounts in your name (but you’ll have to make sure it’s lifted if you want to do something like apply for a loan or rent a new place).


What Do You Think?

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Let us know how you recovered in the comments.


See Also

Student Identity Theft: Stanford University Compromised in Massive Data Breach
Daily Deals Site LivingSocial Hacked, Exposing 50 Million Customers’ Private Info
Which Companies Are Protecting Your Privacy in a Post-PRISM NSA World?

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