How To Avoid a Data Breach

In today’s technology-driven world, who hasn’t shopped online or filled out online forms using personal financial information? It is easy to believe your sensitive data is safe, but in recent times, many large and otherwise trustworthy companies have fallen victim to data security breaches. Popular companies such as Macy’s, Best Buy, Saks Fifth Avenue, Equifax, and even Panera Bread have experienced data breaches.

If you are a business owner or a consumer, you must have plans for surviving a data breach, or else your sensitive data can become permanently compromised. Even worse, if you own a business, your customers’ sensitive data can fall into the hands of someone else, undermining their trust in you. Fortunately, there are ways avoid privacy theft and ensure your personal or business information remains firmly within your hands.

The Anatomy of a Data Breach

Did you know it takes nearly 191 days for most companies to realize they have experienced a data security breach? This is long time, and during this time, the perpetrators have access to the sensitive financial data of you or your customers without anyone knowing.

A data breach can impact any business or organization, but breaches are most likely to occur if your company has a “crack” or “hole” in its online security. It is unlawful to access a person, organization, or business’ data in this manner, but many perpetrators are never caught.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, privacy theft can negatively impact a business’ revenue and customer relationships. For individuals who trust these companies with their personal data, a breach can be devastating, and in many cases lead to ID theft. When a company’s security is compromised, the following customer information can fall into the hands of a malicious third party:

  • Usernames, passwords, and email addresses
  • Credit card and social security numbers
  • Bank account information
  • Driver’s license information
  • Personal data, such as name, address, and phone number

The type of data a hacker gains access to largely depends on a company’s security infrastructure.

If you are a shopper and your personal information is compromised in some way, the business you patronized should always contact you and provide you with details about the privacy theft. Sadly, this does not always happen, and there have been cases in which companies aware of breaches for months refused to alert customers until it was too late. If you are a business owner and your customers’ personal information is compromised, you must alert them as soon as possible and explain the extent of the breach.

The Risks of Compromised Personal Information

Cybercriminals are smart, and when they gain access to your personal information, they can do a significant amount of damage to your finances, personal life, and reputation. If a cybercriminal gains access to your banking information, they can have the power to withdraw your money, open new accounts, pay bills, and transfer funds. To make matters worse, reporting the incident to the authorities more than likely cannot reverse the damage done by privacy theft.

Gaining access to your bank account isn’t the only thing you need to worry about if your personal information is compromised. Cybercriminals can also perform the following acts using your personal data:

  • Apply for and use credit cards in your name
  • Sign up for utilities, such as cable, electricity, or natural gas
  • Send emails from your account
  • Lock you out of your social media and bank accounts
  • Permanently damage your credit score

If a cybercriminal gains access to the password you use for your tax preparation software, they can even view your tax information and mess with your filings.

The Next Steps To Take

Finding out your personal data has been breached can be terrifying. It is impossible to know if your information will land in the hands of a cybercriminal, but there are basic steps you can take after a breach to reduce your chances of privacy theft. Once you find out about a breach, be sure to do the following:

  • Find out what data was breached – Knowing what data is compromised can help you determine where you need to focus your efforts.
  • Create new passwords – Cybercriminals can access all your online accounts using your passwords, so you should change them once you find out about a breach. Always use strong passwords that can’t be easily guessed.
  • Call your bank – If your bank or credit card information has been compromised, immediately contact the bank to disable your cards and warn them about any suspicious account activity or possible privacy theft.
  • Avoid suspicious emails and texts – Cybercriminals often attempt to phish information from unknowing individuals. Most phishing scams involve sending a text or email to a victim claiming their personal information has been compromised. Once the person opens the email or text, the phisher can access their online information remotely.

You should also keep an eye on your bank statements for any unusual charges.

Warning Signs of ID Theft

As stated above, it can take up to 191 days or more for a company to realize its data has been compromised. During this time, you may not even know your information has fallen into someone else’s hands. However, there are signs you may be a victim of privacy theft, even if you haven’t been notified by a company or bank.

If your bank or credit card account information has been compromised, you may begin to notice purchases you didn’t make appearing on your statements. Also, merchants may refuse to take your card or checks if your account is over-drafted or has been frozen by the bank. You should also check your credit report regularly to ensure there is no unfamiliar information present.

Debt collectors are a dedicated group of individuals, and if you start to receive calls about overdue or delinquent accounts you don’t know anything about, someone else may have opened an account in your name. Privacy theft involving insurance can also be a major problem, and if a person obtains your insurance card information, they can use your benefits at doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies. If the insurance company claims your benefits have been used but you didn’t use them, you may be the victim of ID theft.

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