When Hackers Strike, Consumers Need To Take Action

insecure dataBy Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor

When hackers penetrate the computer systems of major retailers, banks or—as in the case of Anthem Inc.—health insurance companies, consumers often worry, yet are unsure how to react. News reports of a data breach often come out days or weeks before consumers receive any notification from the affected company that they’ve been a victim.

Better Business Bureau advises consumers to take action right away rather than wait for a letter from a company where the data breach occurred.

The first step is to monitor your bank and credit card accounts regularly, especially if you suspect you could have been a victim of identity theft by hackers or from someone who had access to sensitive papers while in your home. Rather than wait for a notice, check your statements closely. Go online to scan transactions to make sure the purchases or withdrawals are ones that you actually made.

Another important step is to get a copy of your credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Transunion or Equifax. Consumers are entitled to one free report from each agency once a year by going to annualcreditreport.com or by calling  1-877-322-8228.

One option is to get a report from one agency now, another report in three or four months and the third report three or four months after that. This allows you to keep tabs on your credit report throughout the year.

Once you have the report, scan it to make sure that all of the accounts are yours. If you spot an unfamiliar account, you should notify the reporting agency that it’s not yours and also contact the company where the account was created to prevent potential fraud. You also may ask that incorrect information be removed. Each agency has its own procedures for disputing information on a credit report. Check the websites of Experian, Transunion and Equifax.

You may want to consider asking for credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free, but you may have to pay to put a credit freeze on your account. If you have received a notification that you were a victim of identity theft from one of your accounts, the credit freeze could be free. A freeze prevents anyone from opening a new account using your information.

Another precaution to take is to update passwords. Avoid using obvious or common passwords like “password,” “12345” or others that are easily hacked. Security professionals recommend using a combination of  text, numbers and symbols that are meaningful to you but not to others. Avoid using birthdates or other personal identifying information for your logins or passwords.

Some experts are advising consumers to file their tax returns as soon as possible. Information that was compromised in the Anthem hack included Social Security numbers, employment and income information that could be used to file a false tax return.

Here’s a quick list of steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Do not take a “wait and see” approach as you may have done with breaches involving credit card data. You must act quickly. Breaches involving Social Security numbers have the potential to be far more detrimental to victims, and the damage can be difficult to repair.
  2. Consider taking a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts, but will create a roadblock for thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information.
  3. At a minimum, if you know your Social Security number has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. While less effective than a freeze, this will provide an extra layer of protection. Click here to learn more about security freezes and fraud alerts.
  4. Take advantage of the free credit monitoring services Anthem will be offering to breach victims. While this is not a preventative measure, this will alert you to see new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so that you can act quickly to repair the damage.
  5. Vigilance is key. Regularly check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com for unauthorized charges or other signs of fraud. (NOTE: This is the only free credit report option authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.)
  6. For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on repairing the damage caused by identity theft, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources.
  7. Expect that scammers will take advantage of this data breach to send out phishing emails and other messages that appear to be from Anthem, a credit bureau or other legitimate companies. Do not click on links from any email, text or social media messages about this or any other data breach.

BBB has a list of 10 things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft in the consumer tips section of BBB’s website.

For more information or to report fraud or a scam, go to BBB’s website or call BBB at 314-645-3300.



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