Data breaches are happening with alarming regularity. From major retailers to government agencies, no business is immune from the scourge of data appropriation and identity theft.
If you were caught up in one of those data breaches, you should have received a notification from the company involved and a list of steps you can take to protect your identity and your finances. In many cases data breach victims are also offered some kind of credit monitoring service. If you have been offered such a service, here are some things you need to know.
Keep in mind that the credit monitoring service will probably need to share certain data with third parties to spot early warning signs of fraud. That is nothing to worry about, and it should be clearly spelled out in the company's terms of service.
Free Monitoring May Not Stay That Way
If you were involved in a data breach, the company whose data was compromised may offer you a year of free credit monitoring. Target did this when their customer information was hacked, and many other retailers and businesses have done the same.
When you sign up for that year of free credit monitoring, be sure to ask the company what happens when your time is up. You may have the option of continuing, for a fee, or cancelling the service after the free monitoring period is over. If the service is set to automatically renew at your expense, be sure to set a reminder so you can reevaluate your need for credit monitoring and make the right decision.
No Service is Perfect
Credit monitoring companies do their best to identify fraudulent activity and spot troubling patterns, but even the best service cannot find everything. Having a credit monitoring service in your corner is great, but it does not mean you can ignore your own financial life.
Remove your Information from Data Broker Sites
It is still important to review your credit card statements and bank account information on a regular basis and look for signs of fraud on your own. Working with the credit monitoring service is the best way to safeguard your personal information and avoid issues stemming from a security breach.
Literally anyone can search for a person on the Internet using such key words as:
Searching on these key words will yield the URLs of hundreds of internet-based data broker companies that provide various levels of consumer information on line. Some even provide a good deal of information at no charge. Most provide a teaser amount of information and then charge a fee for the more interesting (and potentially damaging) data. Experiment a little and you’ll quickly discover that you don’t need to hire a private investigator to obtain almost any level of personal information about virtually anyone. And, of course, if you can find detailed sensitive information about someone else, than anyone can find your information as well.
The simple (and sad) fact of the matter is that information brokers, analytical companies and others are compiling vast amounts of your personal information – addresses, family members, relatives, interests, preferences, personal phone numbers and email addresses, financial history and, much more – all without your knowledge or consent. This information is then often combined with public records data to create comprehensive individual profiles which are then sold to virtually anyone willing to pay a small fee.
Internet-based information brokerages and data providers are surfacing all over the country. Why? Because it’s big business – a multi-billion dollar business that includes the three national credit bureaus, many marketing companies and entities like Been Verified, Spokeo, Private Eye and dozens of others. To be fair, many of these companies use your personal information for relatively benign marketing purposes. However, fifty or so of the newer market entries were formed for the exclusive purpose of selling your detailed sensitive information to anyone on the Internet without regard for your privacy. Unfortunately, these businesses are neither licensed nor regulated. As an example, a convicted felon in California is operating one of the largest information brokerage businesses in the country – because he can.
The important take away from today is that virtually anyone can find just about everything they might want to know about you on the internet for any purpose – targeting, stalking, bullying, revenge, embarrassment, identity theft and much more.
Data breaches are not going away. If anything the problem is getting worse. From solo criminals to organized gangs, the data thieves are everywhere, operating throughout the world and breaking into systems large and small. The best way to deal with this growing problem is to protect yourself. Whether you check your own credit report and initiate a credit freeze or hire a credit monitoring service, the tips listed above can help you protect yourself.