7 Things Consumers Need to Know About Data and Credit Breaches

In a perfect world, sensitive data would remain private. You wouldn’t have to worry that your private data would end up spread across the internet or stolen by hackers. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world–and it’s critical that you know how to protect yourself as much as possible. The 2017 Equifax credit breach, for example, impacted more than 145 million individuals. Target’s 2013 data breach impacted more than 41 million consumers, ultimately costing target more than $18 million. Do you know how to keep yourself safe in this fast-paced society? There are several things you need to know about data and credit breaches–and how you can keep yourself safe.

1. Handle Your Shopping Correctly

Credit cards often get a bad reputation in today’s society. People avoid credit cards because of the potential to go into debt–but they forget about the potential advantages offered by those cards. If you’re trying to protect your credit and your finances, consider shopping with a credit card instead of using cash or your debit card. Credit cards send clear, easy to track statements that you can check every month to ensure that there are no unfamiliar purchases. Credit cards also offer higher levels of protection against unauthorized purchases than your debit card company, which means that if someone does manage to access your private information, you can get your money back as soon as possible.

2. You Need to Review Your Accounts Regularly

From your bank account to your credit card purchases, it’s critical that you keep track of your spending–and not just the amount of money that you’re actually spending, but the purchases that have appeared on your card. Check on your credit card and bank account reports on a regular basis. Make sure that there aren’t any unfamiliar purchases showing on your account. Many accounts include a statute of limitations on reporting unauthorized purchases, so the more often you check your account, the less likely you are to miss something important. Not only that, the sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can get your money back where it belongs.

3. Consider the Benefits of Freezing Your Credit

For a relatively minor fee, you can freeze your credit and prevent anyone from accessing it without your permission. You’ll talk to the credit reporting agency, set up a password for accessing and unfreezing information about your credit, and ensure that no one can take out a loan or finance anything in your name. When you do need to use your credit for some reason, you can quickly and easily unfreeze your credit, then freeze it again when you’re done.

4. Check Your Passwords

Are you still using an old, simple password that’s all too easy to crack? Do you use the same password for your online banking that you use for your email address? Check your passwords and make sure that they are long enough and don’t use dictionary words or other easy-to-guess combinations. Consider the advantages of two-factor authentication, which will allow you to provide a PIN from another device–usually your cell phone–to prove that you really are the one attempting to access your online accounts.

5. Pay Attention to Who Has Your Information

There are all too many opportunities for spammers and hackers to steal your private information–especially if you aren’t cautious about how you give it out. Never provide private information to someone who calls or emails you. Keep your bank account information private–and learn the signs of a scam to help prevent you from falling victim to someone who attempts to steal your data. Avoid sharing private information over email, as well, unless you know exactly who the recipient is. Don’t provide information unless it’s absolutely necessary that you do so. When you do give out your information, make sure that it’s for a good reason–and know how to recognize the common signs that you may be dealing with a scammer, rather than a reputable organization.

6. Look At Where You’re Entering Your Information

Not only should you be cautious about who you provide your information to, you should carefully evaluate online shopping and emails before clicking on any links. When possible, enter websites in your address bar, rather than clicking on links from an email–especially if anything in the email raises a red flag in your head. Before you provide credit card or other private information to a website, look for the secure lock symbol in your address bar and make sure that it’s an https address. That added layer of security will help protect your data, your credit, and your privacy.

To keep yourself even safer, try to avoid providing private information when you’re on a public or open wireless network. On your home network, you are likely protected from scammers and hackers. In public, on the other hand, anyone can access your information in the blink of an eye–and that can lead to stolen data.

7. Pay Attention to Physical Security Measures, Too

Your bank, credit card companies, and creditors may all send out mailings that include your private information–and unfortunately, it’s all too easy for thieves to get their hands on them. If you still receive paper statements from any of those institutions, shred those statements, rather than just tossing them in the trash. If you need to tear them into pieces instead, or if you want to add an extra layer of security, consider throwing them away with something nasty and dirty, which will help prevent thieves from digging through it. There are also shredding services available that will take care of shredding sensitive paperwork for you.

Needing to protect your private data is an ongoing challenge of living in today’s society–especially with the increased hacker activity in recent years. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself and increase the security of that important data. By following these steps, you can keep yourself safer and reduce the potential that you’ll deal with the reality of identity theft or credit fraud.