Every day, the theft of personal and financial information puts people at risk of additional problems. Thieves often use the stolen data as quickly as possible to:
- Sell the information to other criminals.
- Withdraw money from a bank account.
- Make credit card purchases.
- File a fraudulent tax return for a refund using a victim’s name.
Victims of a data loss should follow these steps to minimize the effect of the theft:
- Determine what information the thieves compromised. This may include emails and passwords or more sensitive data, such as name and Social Security number.
- Take advantage of credit monitoring services. When an organization or company is affected by a data theft, they will often offer these services.
- Place a freeze on credit accounts. This will prevent the thieves getting access to a victim’s credit records. There may be a fee to place a freeze on an account, and it varies by state. At a minimum, victims should place a fraud alert on their credit accounts by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. A fraud alert isn’t as secure as a freeze, but it’s free.
- Reset passwords on online accounts. This includes financial sites, email accounts and social media accounts. People should use different passwords for each account. If possible, users should create passwords that are at least 10-digit passwords. People should mix letters, numbers and special characters when possible. Victims should consider using a password manager or app.
- Use multi-factor authentication if available. Some financial institutions, email providers and social media sites allow users to set their accounts for multi-factor authentication. This requires a security code, usually sent as a text to their mobile phone, in addition to a username and password.