What happens to your personal info after a data breach?
Jul 30, 2023, 5:00 AM
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Your most sensitive data is online. Sure, you don’t just post your banking details and medical records just anywhere, but hackers still find them — then sell them to anyone willing to pay.
It’s not just tech geniuses getting away with this stuff, either. Sophisticated software is available for purchase or monthly subscription. Here’s how much criminals pay to target you.
Are you wondering how many times you’ve been exposed? This is the best website to check. Pro tip: Check all your email addresses.
Back in the day, news of a breach or hack was shocking and scary. Now, it happens so often that you might not think twice when you get that notification. That’s a mistake.
How often does this stuff happen?
Way more often than you’d think. In 2022, there were 1,802 reported data breaches, affecting over 422 million individuals — just under the record high in 2021.
Cybercriminals get their hands on a host of your data through hacks, leaks, physical theft, human error, phishing attacks, ransomware, and other means. That includes Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card details, health records, passwords, device info and lots more.
Companies and institutions are legally required to disclose data breaches, so if you’ve been involved, you’ll get some kind of communication informing you what was accessed (if that info is available at the time).
So, what should you do?
If you’re in the habit of ignoring data breach alerts, this list will seem like overkill — but trust me here. It’s worth taking steps to safeguard your data after you’ve been exposed. It can, and very well might, get worse if you don’t.
- Call your bank and credit card providers. Freeze and replace all your cards.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit file. You only need to contact one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. The FTC lists the real websites and phone numbers here.
- Monitor your bank and credit card statements for any suspicious activity. It could take time for anything strange to show up, so stay vigilant on this one.
- Change your account passwords. It’s a pain, but this is your first line of defense. Remember, once a password is exposed, it’s off-limits for any other accounts.
- Consider an identity theft monitoring or protection service. In the case of a major breach, the exposed company will often offer this for free. Take advantage. These services do a lot of the hard work for you.
A little prevention goes a long way
Being smart about how you react is one thing, but it pays to be proactive, too.
- Using strong, unique passwords: Your passwords should be a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters and should be different across your accounts.
- Run a regular credit report: You can do this once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Look for any suspicious loans, lines of credit or anything else suspicious.
- Use multi-factor authentication everywhere: Adding another step to the login process is annoying, but it’s worth it. Make this mandatory for any financial or medical accounts. Bonus points if you do this for every single account that allows it.
- Stay up to date: Regular updates are your best protection against flaws and security vulnerabilities. Judging by the number of patches in the tech world this year alone, security pros and hackers are working equally hard. Don’t wait if you see a new update for your phone, tablet, computer, smart speaker or anything else.
- Encrypting sensitive data: You’re making a mistake if you have medical records, financial docs or other info sitting on your desktop that could put you at risk. Today’s malware is sophisticated enough to steal all that if it sneaks onto your computer. Encrypting makes data unreadable to anyone who doesn’t have the password to unlock it.
- Let cloud storage do the work: Not everyone is comfortable encrypting their own data. Fair enough. I highly recommend finding an encrypted cloud storage solution you can trust. My pick is IDrive, a sponsor of my national radio show.
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