Data breaches continue to hit companies of every size and industry in record-setting numbers, exposing more consumer records than ever before to compromise or theft. The rate of data breaches is so serious in fact, that many consumers have been struck with something commonly referred to as “data breach fatigue.” This apathy towards the seriousness of data breaches can have severe consequences if potential victims don’t focus on the security of their data.
When any business experiences a data breach, there can be fall-out. But when a major organization suffers a large-scale data breach that exposes tens of millions of people to potential identity theft, that fall-out is compounded exponentially. In addition, delays in companies reporting of the incident can result in weeks or even months for criminals to use victims’ data without victims ever knowing they were at risk.
One frightening characteristic of data breaches and identity theft is that they seem to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Since the Equifax breach was announced only last month, two more major data breaches have occurred resulting in even more loss of data. With the advent of internet-based attacks and the added obstacle of a global criminal element, preventing these crimes seems almost insurmountable.
But rather than succumb to data breach fatigue, consumers need to take action. The first priority is to strictly monitor your accounts in order to head off signs of suspicious activity, which you can do on your own or by purchasing identity theft monitoring services through a company. In some cases, your insurance policy might have identity theft protection as part of your plan. When evaluating a potential identity theft monitoring provider though, it’s good to check which credit bureau(s) they obtain their monitoring service from. Some consumers are understandably weary about providing additional data to the same credit bureau who compromised it in the first place.
If your information was compromised in a breach and it’s now “out there,” that isn’t reason to think that you can’t control the spread of your data moving forward. First and foremost, you can take action against some of the harm that can occur as a result. For example, if you know you won’t be opening new accounts soon, you can place fraud alerts and security freezes on your credit reports. Placing a fraud alert minimizes the risk of thieves opening new lines of credit for 90 days or seven years, depending on which you choose. Keep in mind that fraud alerts expire and you’ll need to continue to re-request them as needed. On the other hand, a credit freeze, which in many cases costs money, thwarts thieves from opening new lines of credit for the foreseeable future until you lift the freeze. You can read more information on the difference between the two in our other blog, “Best Practices for Data Protection in Wake of Equifax Data Breach Announcement.”
Other proactive steps to take include signing up for alerts through different organizations that will tell you if your Social Security number has been entered on suspicious websites. Additionally, it’s important to open and read any account statements that come via postal mail or email, as this will not only give you a glimpse into how your information is being used and if someone is using your data fraudulently, but it’s often the first way you’ll find out.
In many cases, thieves will hold onto your personal information for years post-breach because they understand that immediately after, people are more likely on the lookout for any red flags. Therefore, it’s important to be vigilant year-round to minimize your risks and to help you spot any suspicious activity early, which can make a world of difference.
By Eva Velasquez, President/CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.