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How to Survive a Data Breach

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 6 comments

Has an online company with which you have an account been hacked? Have you received an email informing you that your personal information has been lost in a data breach?

If so, you're not alone. In the past two years, LinkedIn, eHarmony, Adobe and, most recently, Target have suffered data breaches that together exposed more than 80 million accounts. Other companies will be sure to follow.

If you're among the millions of consumers who may have been exposed by a data breach, here's what to do.

— Pin down exactly what kind of information was lost in the data breach, and how it was protected.

Names and physical addresses are the least sensitive pieces of information; email addresses and account passwords are more sensitive; Social Security numbers and credit-card numbers are the most sensitive (and the most valuable to identity thieves).

The company suffering the breach may tell you that even though email passwords or credit-card numbers were lost, they were encrypted and hence safe.

Don't take that assurance at face value. Hackers and cybercriminals have a number of different ways to "crack" many forms of encryption. If your password was less than eight characters long or used words that can be found in the dictionary, it's as good as cracked.

MORE: How to Protect Yourself From Data Breaches

— Change the password on your account with the affected company right away, if the company hasn't already done so for you.  If you use the same password for accounts with other companies, change those as well. 

While you're changing the password for other accounts, make up and use a new, strong password for each and every one. Don't reuse a password for another account. That way, you'll be limiting the damage next time there's a data breach, and you won't have to go through this process again.

— Contact your bank and your credit-card issuers, explain that your accounts are at risk of fraud and ask them to alert you immediately if they detect suspicious activity on your accounts. 

Professional credit-card thieves will try to "bust out" stolen card numbers with many purchases in a matter of hours, often on weekends when banks are not fully staffed.

— Ask your country's major consumer credit-reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert on your name. This way, if anyone tries to steal your financial identity — for example, by trying to open a credit-card account in your name — you'll know.

Residents of the United States, Canada and Mexico should contact the credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion; U.S. or Mexican residents should also contact Experian, which no longer operates in Canada.

British residents should contact Callcredit, Equifax or Experian; residents of Australia and New Zealand should contact Veda or Experian; residents of Ireland should contact the Irish Credit Bureau or Experian.

—  Look into credit-protection services that will flag suspicious activity on your accounts. BillGuard, for example, will monitor up to three credit cards for free; more expensive "identity protection" services will monitor your accounts with the credit bureaus.

— Losing your personally identifiable information in a data breach doesn't guarantee you'll become a victim of identity theft. But if that does indeed happen, make sure to tell the credit-reporting bureaus right away.

If you detect credit- or debit-card fraud, contact the card issuer immediately.  Doing so may limit your liability.

If you're a U.S. resident, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission to create an identity-theft affidavit, and then file a report with your local police force. Doing both will greatly aid you in clearing your name (which, in the worst cases, can take years).  Make sure you document each phone call made, and each email message and letter sent, during your efforts.

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  • -2 Hide
    ovly500 , December 19, 2013 11:09 AM
    Edward`s report is really great.. Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & have more time with friends and family. Last Wednesday I got a top of the range McLaren F1 from bringing in $5012 this month. I never thought I'd be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try this Buzz95.ℂom
  • 2 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , December 19, 2013 11:14 AM
    Changing your password does nothing to help you when someone steals your information from a credit card when you physically swipe it. The card swipes at Target were what was compromised.
  • 0 Hide
    MultiplAds , December 19, 2013 2:51 PM
    Great Article & Even Greater Tips
  • Display all 6 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    Darkk , December 19, 2013 4:42 PM
    Exactly. Passwords not going to help with the credit card theft from Target. As a customer there isn't much I can do to protect my credit cards other than the obvious. Once the transaction been made it's the merchant's responsibility to secure the credit card information. I would love to know the detail of the break in as I recently shopped at Target using my regular credit card. Talked with my credit card this morning about it and they said fraud department is aware of it and keeping an eye on things. So it'll be interesting just how much data has been stolen and if any of it being used for fraud.
  • 0 Hide
    NancyBOwen , December 21, 2013 11:08 AM
    my co-worker's step-aunt makes $89 every hour on the laptop. She has been fired from work for seven months but last month her paycheck was $12789 just working on the laptop for a few hours. go to this website ......

  • 0 Hide
    Shane Cunningham , February 4, 2014 12:26 AM
    Great tips. Also, I read about account suspension and how to compose secure passwords on Suspending an account can buy you the time you need to change your account information and alert your bank.
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