Dear Consumer Ed: 

I have tried to do everything I can to protect myself from identity theft.  But what can I do about data breaches?

Consumer Ed says: 

A data breach occurs when sensitive or confidential data (e.g. bank or credit card account numbers, Social Security Numbers, medical records, driver’s license numbers) is stolen, copied, viewed or used by an unauthorized person.  The perpetrator could be an employee, a partner or an external person, such as a computer hacker.  The threat of a data breach is quite serious, but fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to detect and prevent misuse of your information in the event that a data breach does occur.

First and most importantly, take the time to review your credit card and bank statements each month to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges on your account.  If there is a suspicious charge or one you do not recognize, contact the financial institution immediately and report it.  Ask them to close any accounts that you know or suspect were compromised and ask for replacement cards with new account numbers and PINs. Find out if there have been any unusual requests such as change-of-address or requests for additional or replacement credit cards. Instruct the card issuer not to honor any requests regarding your card without your written authorization. 

Under the Georgia Personal Identity Protection Act, companies are required to notify all Georgia residents who may be affected by a data breach. However, there may be a delay in notification while law enforcement investigates the data breach, while the scope of the breach is determined, or while the system’s security is restored.

If you discover that you have been the victim of identity theft, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – and place a security freeze on your account. With a freeze in place, the information in your credit report will not be released to anyone, thereby making it almost impossible for an identity thief to open a new credit account in your name. Note that you will need to temporarily lift the freeze (by providing a password) if you yourself wish to apply for a new loan or credit card. 

You should also report the identity theft to the police, as you may need to provide a copy of the police report to your bank, creditors and credit reporting agencies.

To ensure that an identity thief has not opened up a new account in your name, you should review your credit report. To obtain a free copy of your credit report, go to annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. If there are any accounts on your credit report that you did not open, contact the credit bureau to report the fraud and dispute the charges.

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