Whenever companies announce that they have been the victims of a data breach, they urge customers to act quickly to protect themselves from the potential effects. Generally, this is good advice. Even if the data breach was small, it is still important for customers to review their credit history and change the usernames and passwords of any online accounts associated with the company.
However, in an article for The Arizona Republic, contributor Mark Pribish argues that this may not be enough. The problem, he writes, is that 70 percent of the identity thefts that occurred in 2014 did not appear to be directly related to a financial event.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that many of these thefts were not caused by data breaches. On the contrary, Pribish notes that much of the data stolen during these events can be used to steal identities for years after the fact, making it difficult to track the original sources of the compromised information. Whether it is data from medical records, tax forms or driver’s licenses, thieves can hold on to your personal information long after the data breach has actually occurred.
“[M]uch like a bank robber who recently stole money wouldn’t immediately go spend that money, ID theft criminals oftentimes hold our sensitive information for some time before ever using it,” Pribish writes.
For this reason, it is important for consumers to always be aware of the possibility of identity theft. They might not necessarily be alerted to their risk by a major breach.
What to do if you think your identity has been compromised
If you believe your personal information has been compromised some time in the past, you should be wary of any problems with your credit or any other signs that your credentials are being misused. Perhaps you are starting to see mysterious charges on your bank statements, or you are receiving bills for services you did not pay for. Debt collectors may have begun contacting you for loans that you did not take out, and someone may have already filed a tax return in your name. If you have any suspicions of identity theft, there are several important steps that you can take to minimize the damage.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests flagging your credit file with a fraud alert, so that thieves will have more trouble opening accounts in your name. An even stronger step that you can take in this regard is ordering a credit freeze.
Next, create an identity theft report. This will help you remove fraudulent information from your credit report and stop debt collectors from seeking payments that you do not owe. To do this, you will have to file both a complaint with the FTC as well as a police report detailing what you know about the theft.
Be sure to carefully review your credit reports and dispute fraudulent charges or any other errors. Credit reporting firms must block any errors resulting from an identity theft from appearing on your credit report.
Identity theft can be a traumatic experience, but it is possible for victims to pick up the pieces and repair their financial standing. Use a credit monitoring services to keep an eye out for certain activity that may be indicative of fraud on your credit file, so you can react as soon as possible.