What to Do If You’re Caught Up in a Data Breach

Tips & Advice

It happens with more regularity than any of us like to see. There’s either a headline in your news feed or an email from a website or service you have an account with—there’s been a data breach. So what do you do when you find out that you and your information may have been caught up in a data breach? While it can feel like things are out of your hands, there are actually several things you can do to protect yourself. 

Let’s start with a look at what kind of information may be at stake and why crooks value that information so much (it’s more reasons than you may think). 

What can get exposed in a data breach?  

The fact is that plenty of our information is out there on the internet, simply because we go about so much of our day online, whether that involves shopping, banking, getting results from our doctors, or simply hopping online to play a game once in a while.  

Naturally, that means the data in any given breach will vary from service to service and platform to platform involved. Certainly, a gaming service will certainly have different information about you than your insurance company. Yet broadly speaking, there’s a broad range of information about you stored in various places, which could include:  

  • Username and password 
  • E-mail address 
  • Phone numbers and home address 
  • Contact information of friends and family 
  • Date of birth 
  • Driver’s license number 
  • Credit card and debit card numbers, bank account details 
  • Purchase history and account behavior history 
  • Patient information (in the case of healthcare breaches) 
  • Social Security Number or Tax ID Number 

As to what gets exposed and when you might find out about it, that can vary greatly as well. One industry research report found that 60% of breaches were discovered in just days from the initial attack while others could take months or even longer to detect. Needless to say, the timeline can get rather stretched before word reaches you, which is a good reason to change your passwords regularly should any of them get swept up in a breach. (An outdated password does a hacker no good—more on that in a bit.) 

What do crooks do with this kind of information? 

The answer is plenty. In all, personal information like that listed above has a dollar value to it. In a way, your data and information are a kind of currency because they’re tied to everything from your bank accounts, investments, insurance payments—even tax returns and personal identification like driver’s licenses.  

With this information in hand, a crook can commit several types of identity crime—ranging from fraud to theft. In the case of fraud, that could include running up a bill on one of your credits cards or draining one of your bank accounts. In the case of theft, that could see crooks impersonate you so they can open new accounts or services in your name. Beyond that, they may attempt to claim your tax refund or potentially get ID issued in your name as well. 

Another possibility is that a hacker will simply sell that information on the dark marketplace, perhaps in large clumps or as individual pieces of information that go for a few dollars each. However it gets sold, these dark-market practices allow other fraudsters and thieves to take advantage of your identity for financial or other gains.  

Most breaches are financially motivated, with some researchers saying nearly 90% of breaches are about the money. However, we’ve also seen hackers simply dump stolen information out there for practically anyone to see. The motivations behind them vary, yet could involve anything from damaging the reputation of an organization to cases of revenge.   

Noteworthy examples of data breaches 

A list of big data breaches is a blog article of its own, yet here’s a quick list of some of the largest and most impactful breaches we’ve seen in recent years: 

  • Facebook – 2019: Two datasets leaked the records of more than 530 million users, including phone numbers, account names, Facebook IDs, and more. 
  • Marriott International (Starwood) – 2018. Leakage of 500,000 guest names, emails, actual mailing addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers, Starwood Preferred Guest account information, date of birth, and information about stays. 
  • Equifax – 2017. Approximately 147 million records, including name, address, date of birth, driver’s license numbers, and Social Security Numbers were leaked, as well as credit card information for a further 200,000 victims. 

Needless to say, it’s not just the big companies that get hit. Healthcare facilities have seen their data breached, along with the operations of popular restaurants. Small businesses find themselves in the crosshairs as well, with one report stating that 43% of data leaks target small businesses. Those may come by way of an attack on where those businesses store their records, a disgruntled employee, or by way of a compromised point-of-sale terminal in their store, office, or location. 

In short, when it comes to data breaches, practically any business is a potential target because practically every business is online in some form or fashion. Even if it’s by way of a simple point-of-sale machine. 

What to do if you think your information may have been exposed by a breach 

When a business, service, or organization falls victim to a breach, it doesn’t always mean that you’re automatically a victim too. Your information may not have been caught up in it. However, it’s best to act as if it was. With that, we strongly suggest you take these immediate steps. 

1. Change your passwords and use two-factor authentication 

Given the possibility that your password may be in the hands of a hacker, change it right away. Strong, unique passwords offer one of your best defenses against hackers. Update them regularly as well. As mentioned above, this can protect you in the event a breach occurs and you don’t find out about it until well after it’s happened. You can spare yourself the upkeep that involves a password manager that can keep on top of it all for you. If your account offers two-factor authentication as part of the login process, make use of it as it adds another layer of security that makes hacking tougher.  

2. Keep an eye on your accounts 

If you spot unusual or unfamiliar charges or transactions in your account, bank, or debit card statements, follow up immediately. That could indicate improper use. In general, banks, credit card companies, and many businesses have countermeasures to deal with fraud, along with customer support teams that can help you file a claim if needed. 

3. Sign up for an identity protection service 

If you haven’t done so already, consider signing up for a service that can monitor dozens of types of personal information and then alert you if any of them are possibly being misused. Identity protection such as ours gives you the added benefit of a professional recovery specialist who can assist with restoring your affairs in the wake of fraud or theft, plus up to $1 million in insurance coverage 

What if I think I’m the victim of identity theft? 

Our advice is to take a deep breath and get to work. By acting quickly, you can potentially minimize and even prevent any damage that’s done. With that, we have two articles that can help guide the way if you think you’re the victim of identity theft, each featuring a series of straightforward steps you can take to set matters right: 

Again, if you have any concerns. Take action. The first steps take only minutes. Even if the result is that you find out all’s well, you’ll have that assurance and you’ll have it rather quickly. 

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