It seems that barely a week goes by without another high profile data breach. From the largest retailers in the world to hospitals and major employers, companies seem to be losing track of their data at an unprecedented rate.
Whether those data breaches are the result of poor data security practices or better hacking tools, ordinary people need to take steps to protect themselves. Once a company has your data, there is no way to know what they are doing with it. They could have your Social Security number, date of birth and salary information locked in a secure vault, but they could also have it on an unencrypted laptop left unattended in a conference room.
That lack of control may be troubling, but there are still things you can do to protect yourself and your personal data. Following these security tips can help you spot data breaches early, when the damage is easy to reverse.
Check Your Bank and Brokerage Accounts Regularly
Direct deposit and electronic bill pay has automated our bank accounts and reduced the need to check balances, but that is not always a good thing. If a hacker were to get hold of your banking information, they could do a lot of damage before you realize it. That is why it is so important to check your bank and brokerage accounts on a regular basis.
Checking your bank and brokerage accounts on a weekly basis is the best way to spot data breaches and other problems early, when it is easiest to reverse the damage. Checking your accounts regularly is even more important if a hacker gets your debit card information, since you have a limited window to protest any debit card withdrawals.
Review Your Challenge Questions
It is also a good idea to log on to your bank and brokerage accounts from a different computer at least once or twice. This will allow you to review your challenge questions and make sure they are appropriately private. This can also give you an early warning of a hacked account. If you do not recognize the challenge questions, a hacker may have broken into your account and changed them.
The challenge questions you choose should be things that only you know. Some people choose an answer that is unrelated to the question as an extra safeguard. That can prevent hackers, or those you know, from breaking into your accounts and stealing your hard-earned money.
Review Your Credit Report
If you have not been reviewing your credit report on a regular basis, those recent data breaches should serve as a wake-up call. It has never been more important to take a proactive approach to your personal data, and checking your credit report is a great place to start.
You can get a free copy of your credit report by going to annualcreditreport.com. Once there, you simply enter your identifying information and review your credit report. Be sure to contact the reporting agency at once if you spot any accounts you did not authorize or any suspicious activity.
Secure and Destroy Sensitive Documents in a Timely Manner
of us don’t think twice about throwing away junk mail. However, your trash is the #1 perpetrator to assisting criminals in stealing your identity. Any papers that carry your personal information should be securely destroyed prior to tossing them into the trash. This includes any formatted mail with something as simple as your name and address on it.
Data breaches are not likely to go away anytime soon. Companies are working harder than ever to secure their customer data, but hackers and criminals are working just as hard to get that valuable information. If you want to keep your own data out of the hands of the bad guys, you need to make data security a top priority.
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