The Barn Door’s Open. The Cow’s Gone.

Posted June 25, 2015

A Consumer Affairs’ Expert Offers Nine Tips Victims of Data Breaches Can Use to Protect Themselves

How do you prevent yourself from becoming a cash cow for some cybercriminal after the place where your personally identifiable information (PII) has been hacked?

Consumer affairs reporter at, Karin Price Mueller, notes that in 2015, “the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has reported 361 data breaches, exposing more than 107 million records. [And] medical and healthcare data breaches make up more than 93 percent of the reports.”

To limit or prevent damage from a breach that compromised your name and address, Social Security number, driver’s license number, etc., Mueller has come up with a nine-step plan. The following has been excerpted from her piece and edited to fit our format. The piece is entitled “Bamboozled: A 9-step Plan for Data Breach Victims.”

  • Check credit reports
  • You can get a free copy of your credit reports once a year through, and you may get it for free more often if your PII has been stolen. Review the report for any new accounts, or accounts you don’t recognize.

    1. Take advantage of credit monitoring

    Breached companies often tell affected customers they’re eligible for a free credit monitoring service. These will generally track inquiries to your credit reports and notify you if anything is fishy. Some even offer monitoring of your PII in public databases and web sites.

    1. Freeze your credit

    You can place a freeze on your credit reports, which will make it harder for a thief to open new credit in your name. Credit reporting companies won’t be able to release your credit report without your consent, and you’ll receive a special password to use if you decide to release your credit info to someone. Know that this adds a few extra steps if you’re applying for new credit, and it won’t impact your existing credit lines. A freeze will be free if you’re a fraud victim. You can reach Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289.

    1. Use fraud alerts

    If you place a fraud alert on your credit file, companies that request your credit report must take extra steps to verify your identity. If you provide a telephone number to the business, for example, the business must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request, the Federal Trade Commission says on its web site. You can request fraud alerts for free from the credit bureaus. When you ask one bureau, it’s required to notify the other two.

    1. Change passwords

    [Change passwords] for any account that’s associated with your email address, including online banking, credit card, mortgage and investment accounts and even web sites where you shop and store your information. If you can change your user name also, do that, too.

    1. Change account numbers

    Contact all your credit cards and bank accounts and request a new account number for any account you think may have been impacted…. Let them know your PII was stolen. Remember to give the new number to any businesses that take regular automatic payments from that account.

    1. Contact the DMV

    [If your state doesn’t offer a fraud alert service, you should still contact the Department of Motor vehicles.]

    1. File taxes early…before the bad guys do

    File your tax return as soon as possible. If a scammer files a return in your name, your refund could be significantly delayed and you’ll have another headache to contend with.

    1. Don’t get fooled

    Scammers may, in an attempt to get your PII, impersonate the breached entity via regular mail, email or telephone contact. If you’re contacted, reach out to the breached company — get its contact information independently — and ask if the communication was for real.



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