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Protecting Your Finances During a Security or Data Breach

By: Home Bank

Information Courtesy of the FDIC

"While there isn't really anything consumers can do to prevent a breach, you can be on the lookout for signs that something like this has occurred," said Jeff Kopchik, a Senior Policy Analyst with the FDIC. "And, if you receive formal notice from your bank or a retailer that your credit or debit card information was stolen as a result of a breach, there are steps you can take to protect yourself."

How can you avoid losing money due to a security breach?

Review your bank and credit card statements regularly to look for suspicious transactions. If you have online access to your bank and credit card accounts, it is a good idea to check them regularly, perhaps weekly, for transactions that aren't yours.

Contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report a problem. Debit card users in particular should promptly report a lost card or an unauthorized transaction. Unlike the federal protections for credit cards that cap losses from fraudulent charges at $50, your liability limit for a debit card could be up to $500, or more, if you don't notify your bank within two business days after discovering the loss or theft.

Periodically review your credit reports to make sure someone hasn't obtained credit in your name. By law, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies (also known as credit bureaus) once every 12 months. Because their reports may differ, consider spreading out your requests during the year. To order a free report, go to or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

If you find an unfamiliar account on your credit report, call the fraud department at the consumer reporting agency that produced it. If that account turns out to be fraudulent, consider asking for a "fraud alert" to be placed in your file at the three main credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports that you have been a victim of fraud and that they should verify any new accounts being opened in your name or changes to your existing accounts.

What if you place a fraud alert in your credit files and then you apply somewhere for a new credit card, mortgage or other loan? Expect that the lender will call you for a confirmation. However, be aware that the fraud alert also may slow down the process of obtaining that new credit while the lender verifies your identity.

An additional but more serious step is to place a "credit freeze" on your credit report, which means that the credit bureaus cannot provide your credit report to lenders who request it. That, in turn, may prevent criminals from obtaining credit in your name, but it also will stop you from getting new credit until you lift the freeze.

Pay attention to notices from your retailer or your bank about a security breach. In the event of a large-scale breach, you may receive notice that your credit card is being replaced with one that has a new account number.

Also, the retailer may offer you free credit-monitoring services, usually for up to one year. "This service provides an excellent way to see if a cyber thief is using the stolen information to apply for new credit cards or loans in your name," Kopchik said. "And if you are not offered free credit monitoring, you may want to consider buying it at your own expense." Note: A credit-monitoring service can be costly, so research the options thoroughly and understand that you can monitor your own credit reports for free, as previously described.

Be on guard against scams offering "help" after a data breach. Be very careful about responding to an unsolicited e-mail promoting credit monitoring services, since many of these offers are fraudulent. If you're interested in credit monitoring and it's not being offered for free by your retailer or bank, do your own independent research to find a reputable service.

You can request your credit report from the following credit reporting agencies:

If you have been denied credit, you can get a copy of your credit report free. Otherwise, a small fee may be required.

If you find incorrect information in your credit report, contact the credit reporting agency. They are required to investigate the information within 30 days and delete the information if it cannot be verified. Your rights are further described in the Fair Credit Reporting Act.