By the end of the first quarter 2014, more than 200 data breaches compromised millions of consumer records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, which keeps track of reported data breaches. Stunned? Data breach stats are even more staggering if you’re among the millions of Americans caught up in one every year.
In addition to the potential monetary loss and identity theft risks, data breaches can also rob you of your sense of security and confidence. It’s important to take steps to help protect your identity and financial accounts and rebuild your sense of security when you learn you’ve been involved in a data breach.
Often, breached organizations will offer affected customers some form of credit monitoring for a set period of time (usually one year) after the breach. While such services may go a long way toward making you feel more secure, be sure you understand exactly what the offered product can – and can’t – do to help you recover from the potential impact of a data breach.
Data breaches, credit monitoring and identity theft risks
Consumers whose personal or financial information is compromised in a data breach may be at greater risk of experiencing identity theft. In 2013, more than 13 million Americans experienced identity fraud, according to a study by Javelin Strategy.
Credit monitoring products aim to help minimize identity theft risks by keeping an eye on your credit accounts, where evidence of potential fraud and identity theft may first appear. Identifying such signs early may help mitigate some of the damages associated with identity theft.
While it’s true that consumers can do on their own virtually everything a credit monitoring product does, going it alone can sometimes be time-consuming and burdensome. Convenience is a significant benefit of a credit monitoring product. Not all credit monitoring products are alike, however, and if a company offers you this product in the wake of a data breach, don’t hesitate to carefully review the product and ask questions, including:
• Does the product provide daily monitoring of credit files?
• Will you receive timely alerts of key changes in your credit files?
• Does the product monitor your credit file at all three of the major credit reporting agencies, or only one? For example, Equifax Complete monitors information from all three bureaus.
• Are financial alerts included, and is it possible to link your bank and credit card accounts to the monitoring product? This allows you to be alerted when withdrawals from your bank account and/or charges to your credit card are processed, based on threshold amounts that you define.
• Is Internet scanning for your Social Security Number and credit card numbers included? This may help detect unauthorized posting of your Social Security number and credit card numbers on certain suspicious trading sites.
If a breached company cannot answer these questions, or you’re not satisfied that the credit monitoring product being offered is comprehensive enough for your needs, you may need to take additional steps. First, you should ask the breached company for a different product. Such companies are increasingly aware of the impact data breaches can have on their reputation, and may be more willing to engage with those customers who feel they’re not receiving an appropriate response in the wake of a data breach. If a company refuses to respond to your request, consider also subscribing to a more suitable product of your choice on your own – it can be a key step toward regaining some confidence and peace of mind when you’re a data breach victim.