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The Nitty Gritty

Protecting Yourself Before and After a Data Breach

Each day you provide personal information to companies with the expectation that they will protect it. 

Unfortunately, that trust is sometimes misplaced. It seems like the stories about data breaches keep popping up. While you can’t control the security companies put in place, you can take steps to limit the damage to you personally.

If you believe you may be the victim of a breach, here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Change your password on all financial accounts and merchant accounts to stay one step ahead of hackers. The password info they stole is no longer useful once you’ve updated it.

  2. Review your account history to spot any suspicious activity. This includes all credit card statements, financial transaction accounts and payment processing accounts in the months since the breach occurred. Pay attention to the timeline provided by the impacted company. In many cases, there may be a gap between when the breach was discovered and when the public was notified.

  3. Check your credit report activity.  Your report can be accessed through https://www.annualcreditreport.com. You are eligible to receive one free credit report from each credit reporting company per year.

  4. Ask the credit agencies to freeze your credit reports to prevent it from being pulled for lending purposes. It’s free and will keep fraudsters from using stolen information to open credit cards or loans in your name without your knowledge. Just know that you’ll need to contact the credit bureaus to lift the freeze before applying to borrow money. Go to these credit agency websites to learn more:

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Here are some steps you can take to prevent or minimize the impact a future breach could have on you:

  1. Do not use the same password for all of your accounts. Yes, it’s difficult to remember dozens of passwords, but you run the risk of the hackers getting into more than one of your accounts if your passwords are all the same. While you’re at it, make sure the passwords you set are complex enough to not be guessed. No more “password1234.”

  2. Be careful about clicking on links you receive through email or text messages. The bad guys can send messages that look legitimate, but actually contain viruses or are phishing scams. Only use trusted sites you have gone to directly.

  3. Never open an email attachment that you were not expecting to receive. Attachments can contain a virus or other malware that opens access to information on your device.  

  4. Make sure your devices are secure by ensuring operating systems and applications have all security updates, patches and virus-detection software are installed. This is an important step to prevent access to your information by hackers.

Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for more information: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Assistant