Protecting personal information: What to do if you are victim of data breach

Being proactive is important

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DETROIT – Data breaches are common, especially among major food chains and larger retailers.

MORE: Macy's data breach includes online card information

Working with the Better Business Bureau, Help Me Hank has come up with these guidelines to help you protect your credit or debit cards before, or after, you suspect they've been involved in a breach.

Be proactive about protecting information

It's up to you to be proactive and take steps to protect yourself. The thieves might get your information, but if you protect and monitor all of your accounts, there's not much they can do with those important numbers.

  • Stay calm. Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges on stolen account numbers.
  • Check with the website of the retailer for the latest information. Type the store name directly into your browser. Do not click on a link from an email or social media message.
  • Remember to beware of emails that may offer information to help you deal with the crisis. Those emails could be fake, designed to make you click on a dangerous link or share personal information.
  • If your card was compromised, you will likely hear from the bank or card issuer first. If you have questions, call the customer service number on your card.
  • Consider putting fraud alerts on all your accounts. Check with each bank or financial institution on how to do so. You can usually set a dollar amount that will spark a fraud warning if the company sees suspicious activity.
  • Monitor all your financial accounts carefully. If you have computer access, try checking your account weekly. Do not wait for the monthly statement.
  •  If you see a fraudulent charge, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately so the charge can be reversed and a new card issued.
  • Keep receipts so you can prove which charges are legitimate.
  • Be careful about how often you use your debit card. If it is hacked, thieves will be stealing your money, and debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards. Make sure you know what kind of protection your account will offer.
  • Consider having a "dirty" credit card to use for all public transactions and online purchases. Ideally, you can pay it off each month and, if it's hacked, you'll have better protection. Use your debit card for getting cash, and use other credit cards for major purchases.
  •  Change your passwords on financial accounts frequently. Also, make sure you create "strong" passwords that will not be easily guessed.
  • When you hear about a breach, share that information with family and friends, so they can also follow these steps to protect themselves.
  • If you think you’re a victim of a cyber breach:

    • Find out what was stolen.
      The least sensitive information is your name and address. That can be found in a phone book and isn’t that useful to cybercriminals.
      The sensitive information is your email address, date of birth and payment card account numbers. Stolen email addresses can result in an increase in spam as well, which means you’ll be more susceptible to phishing emails.
      The most sensitive thing to be stolen is your Social Security number, online passwords and financial account numbers. 
    • Change all the affected passwords.
      If you use the same password for any other accounts, change those too. Make up a new, stronger password for each account. Don't reuse the password for a second account. That way, you'll be limiting the damage next time there's a data breach.
    • Contact the bank or financial organization.
      If a payment card number -- debit or credit -- has been stolen contact the bank or organization that issued the card. Make sure you speak to a real person. Explain that your account is at risk of fraud. They will then place an alert on your card, and in most cases, issue you a new one. In the United States, federal rules limit the customer's liability for fraud. If you alert the banks or card issuers before any fraudulent transactions take place, you're covered.
    • Sign up for a monitoring service and alerts.
      Many services, both paid and free, will help monitor your financial accounts for suspicious activity. For fees that range from $15 to $30 per month, full-fledged identity protection services will monitor your accounts with the credit bureaus, and often watch for identity theft and stolen credit cards as well. Your bank might also have a service that alerts you of suspicious activity on your phone or throw email. It’s always a good idea to sign up for those. 

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