Data breaches are so common that more than 167 breaches were reported during the first three months of 2008. Unfortunately, you can't prevent a data breach. Sure, you can refuse to give your personal information to some organizations, and at times you should. But sometimes you have no choice but to provide personal information to some companies. So, what do you do if you learn that a company storing your personal information falls victim to a data breach? Use these five steps to protect yourself.
1. Contact the organization that suffered the breach.The organization should have a hot line set up and manned with staffers who can answer your questions about what protection the company plans to provide and to what extent your personal information is at risk.
2. Contact any affected financial companies.If your bank accounts, credit card accounts, or investment accounts are affected, immediately contact the companies and request that the account be closed and a new one opened. Alternatively, you can place a fraud alert on the account, but understand that those alerts won’t be affected by opening new accounts.
3. Monitor your banking and credit statements closely.Check every item on your bank statements and credit card statements to be sure they are legitimate charges and expenditures. If you find something that doesn’t match your receipts, call the company immediately and file a fraudulent charge notification.
4. File a fraud alert with all three credit reporting agencies.The credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian -- are required by law to flag your credit report for 90 days if you file a fraud alert. Then if someone tries to open a new account using your credit information, you should be contacted for verification.
5. Sign up for any free credit report monitoring that’s offered.Because breaches have become so common these days, it’s not uncommon for companies to offer a one year credit monitoring service for free. If the company that compromised your information offers this program, sign up for it immediately and then use it to monitor your credit regularly.