We’ve all gotten them–the dreaded letter that informs us that our data has been compromised, including our Social Security number. Some have received so many of these “notifications” that they are de-sensitized, throw their hands in the air, and throw it in the trash. But doing this could put you at risk for identity theft.
In our experience with assisting companies with data breach response, approximately 10-15% of the people who receive the letter actually follow the instructions in the letter. That figure shows the general malaise of U.S. citizens when it comes to receiving breach notification letters.
So when we get one of those letters, what should we do? Read it, follow it and sign up for any services that are being offered. Whether you have been offered and are receiving credit monitoring for another breach, sign up for the service being provided in the new breach. Some products offered are for credit monitoring, which monitors your credit report, while others offer fraud resolution. Fraud resolution is different than credit monitoring, so you should avail yourself of each product that is offered. Sometimes you may have to sign up for the products on line and keep reading the fine print to get to fraud resolution, but sign up for it if it is offered.
Get a copy of your credit report. You are entitled by law to get a free copy of your credit report every year through Annual Credit Report.com. DON’T GO TO FREE CREDIT REPORT.com. It is reportedly a scam.
Get your credit report, review it carefully, and make sure everything on it is accurate. If it isn’t, federal law allows you to advise the credit reporting agencies that it is incorrect, and there is a process to follow. Although it is not an easy process, it is worthwhile to get any inaccurate information removed from your credit report.
In addition to credit monitoring, if you are the victim of a data breach, you can put a fraud alert or put a credit freeze on your credit accounts. Some state laws require companies to provide instructions on how to put a credit freeze on your account in the notification letter. There may be a small charge, which differs by state. When you put a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your account, you only have to tell one credit bureau, and that credit bureau is required to tell the other two. The advantage of a fraud alert or credit freeze is that no one can open an account without your actual authorization. So instead of waiting until a fraud might have occurred, which may be detected by credit monitoring, a fraud alert and credit freeze won’t allow a new account (such as a credit card account or a utility account) to be opened without additional measures to be taken. Hackers don’t like to take additional measures, and will give up and go on to the next victim.
One caution about a security freeze. I don’t recommend it if you are in the process of trying to get any type of credit, such as a credit card, a mortgage, a car loan or if you are refinancing your home. It is very difficult to even get credit for yourself if you have a credit freeze on your account. You have to jump through numerous hoops, so wait until your loan goes through before you put a freeze on your account. If you aren’t getting any credit, it is one of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.
Also, some service providers offer free identity theft protection services for their members or customers, including employers, banks, automobile clubs and trade associations. Find out if you can get any services for free through these types of organizations and sign up for this benefit.
Identity theft continues to be the number one consumer complaint to the FTC, so protect yourself and sign up for any and all services when you receive that dreaded breach notification letter.