Security · July 16, 2020

Stay Protected From Data Breaches With These Tips

We spend more time online today than ever before. Unfortunately, criminals have adapted to this habit shift, finding illicit ways to access our digital data. The best way to avoid falling victim to these threats is to take proactive steps to keep your information safe.

Even if you're not aware of a specific attack, data breaches have become common enough that it's smart to put some protective measures in place to alert you to any fraudulent or suspicious activity. Here are some straightforward steps you can take to stay aware and keep your account security strong.


Change your passwords

Regularly updating passwords is a good practice to keep your accounts safe. Choose unique passwords for each of your accounts. To help you remember multiple, complicated passwords, consider a password management app like Dashlane or LastPass.

Then, make sure you regularly update your passwords as a preventive security measure. That way, even if a data breach occurs, the information that hackers glean will quickly become outdated and useless.

Request your annual credit reports

Every year, you can request you credit report for free from each of the three major credit agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you download one report from a different agency every four months, you'll be able to monitor for changes year-round.

Each credit agency uses a different method to calculate scores, so it's more important to focus on the activity within the report than on the score itself. Check each report for mistakes, as well as for signs of suspicious activity that could indicate data breaches. Telltale indicators include a new account you've never seen before or a credit inquiry that you don't know the source of.

Many credit card issuers and banks offer free credit score updates to clients. While your score won't show you the underlying report, a change in your score could indicate that someone has accessed credit in your name. A surprise shift in the status of your score could indicate that you should request a full credit report and look at your accounts more closely for any other signs of fraud.

Consider ongoing monitoring

If you don't see any immediate evidence of identity theft but are still concerned you're vulnerable, you can enroll in credit monitoring. Professional monitoring agencies will regularly check your credit for signs of fraud and alert you to any suspicious activity. If a company has notified you of a breach, they may offer you free credit monitoring for a period of time. Take advantage of this service—it'll cost you nothing and may help you catch issues more quickly.

If you don't have access to free monitoring, you can use a free credit report service, such as those offered by Credit Karma and Nerdwallet. In addition, ask your employer if they offer credit monitoring as part of their benefits package. If not, you can pay a credit monitoring company directly for the service.

If you suspect identity theft, notify any accounts or creditors immediately, and put a fraud alert on your credit report. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-438-4338, and file a report with your local police department.

The more we live our lives online, the more opportunity there is for criminals to access our personal information. By implementing some smart practices to keep your accounts secure, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim—and limit the damage if a breach does occur.

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.