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How a Data Breach Can Impact You

In case you haven’t heard, Equifax has reached a settlement for the 147 million people impacted by their 2017 data breach. If you were one of those people, they’ve set aside $380 million to repay you up to $125 for the hassle of credit repair or monitoring services.

Here’s the thing: If all 147 million people file to collect that money, that’s just $2.58 per person. You don’t have to be a math wizard to see this doesn’t add up. It’s a joke! Don’t expect Equifax or the Federal Trade Commission to clean up the mess and repay you after a data breach. Instead, make sure you’re covered with identity theft protection.

If that's not enough, Capital One recently announced a data breach done by one person who managed to get the personal information of 100 million customers in the United States and 6 million in Canada.1

The details this (now arrested) individual got their hands on included Social Security numbers, credit scores, customer contact information, credit application details, and other personal information for customers and small businesses. Capital One has said that they do not believe the information was used for fraud, but are continuing to investigate.

Do you have the right ID theft protection? Get covered in minutes.

While being a part of a data breach doesn’t automatically mean your identity will be stolen, it does put you more at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

What is a data breach?

A data breach is a security incident where personal and confidential information is stolen by another individual. The information compromised can include things like your name, birth date, street address, health care history, customer lists, Social Security number, and bank account information. If the company or organization discovers an unauthorized individual has viewed that information, they’ve had a data breach.

How is a data breach different from identity theft?

Identity theft involves someone actually using your private information—usually for their own financial gain or to impersonate you. You might think you qualify as an identity theft victim if your personal information was exposed in a data breach—but the good news is, that’s not always the case! Breathe easy.

Recent Data Breaches

Some data breaches seem more “minor” in nature because the information they gather feels less significant (like Facebook’s misuse of private data that impacted a potential 87 million users).2

Sure, gaining access to information like names, email addresses, and passwords might not seem as harmful as someone having your Social Security number. But any data breach can leave you at risk of identity theft if the hackers want to use that information against you. Even a breach of less sensitive information like the one with Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal users can still affect millions of people—150 million, to be exact.3

Just reading the words “data breach” probably makes you think of one of the most notorious breaches in recent history. It’s hard to forget the far-reaching Equifax blunder that exposed Social Security numbers, birth dates, home addresses, tax ID numbers, and driver’s license information of potentially 148 million people.4

The sad truth is, a lot of the industries we trust to keep personal information safe are prone to being hacked.

Company Date Potential People Impacted
Bonobos15 Jan 2021 7 million
Capital One Financial Corporation5 July 2019 106 million
First American Financial Corporation6 May 2019 885 million
Marriott Hotels7 Nov 2018 500 million
SunTrust Banks8 Apr 2018 1.5 million
Panera Bread9 Apr 2018 37 million
Facebook Mar 2018 87 million
Under Armour Mar 2018 150 million
Orbitz10 Mar 2018 880,000
BJC HealthCare11 Mar 2018 33,420
FedEx12 Feb 2018 119,000
Jason's Deli13 Jan 2018 2 million
Uber14 Nov 2017 57 million
Equifax Sept 2017 148 million

*To find more recent breaches, visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

How do these data breaches happen?

It seems like big-time security measures should be enough to keep hackers at bay, but no safety measure is surefire. Large-scale or minor data breaches can happen anytime a hacker or anyone who isn't authorized gains access to sensitive files or information. And they happen a lot more often than you might think.

So, who or what is to blame for making these trusted corporations open to data breaches? Anything as minor as a weak password can cause a breach. Sometimes it's a missing security patch or a system glitch that's at fault.

And a company can unknowingly trigger the leak of information themselves too! This type of incident is known as an "accidental data breach" and can be caused by things like failure to follow password guidelines or public-facing web services.

Whatever the case, these types of data breaches don't seem to be slowing down. A recent report by McAfee shows that the global cost of cybercrime is approaching $600 billion.15

How do I know if I’ve been affected by a data breach?

If a company has experienced a data breach, they’re required by state law to let you know about it.16 It’s news no one wants to hear, but knowing allows you to become hyperalert and keep an eye on things moving forward.

Recently, Equifax settled their agreement to compensate for the way they handled their 2017 data breach.

If you were one of the 147 million affected, you can now file a claim that will give you compensation for credit monitoring, loss of time and money, and even a partial reimbursement for any monitoring you’ve already purchased with Equifax.17

If you weren’t affected by the breach, you still need to make sure you’re protected by more than just simple credit monitoring. Plus, it’s probably hard to trust Equifax with your personal information after a breach that large. Get ID theft protection that will not only protect your information, but more importantly help you clean up any messes that come with these awful data breaches.

What can I do to protect myself from data breaches?

Here’s the bad news: There’s not a whole lot you can do to protect yourself from a data breach. These days, your personal information is out there somewhere on plenty of different platforms—and no company is 100% secure from a breach.

But here’s the good news: It’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of common security practices you can put into place to help protect yourself before a breach happens.

Shred documents with your personal information listed, never keep your Social Security card in your wallet, and be cautious about who you share your personal information with. And don’t forget to arm yourself with identity theft protection.

What can I do to protect myself from identity theft after a breach?

If a company with your information has a data breach, there are a few important steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Remember, a breach doesn’t automatically mean your identity has been stolen.

Change Your Passwords

It’s a good idea to go ahead and change your passwords—especially if you use the same password in multiple places. Hint: Don’t use the same password across accounts! Using the same password for all your social media profiles, email addresses, and bank accounts is just asking for trouble. Instead, you should always use unique passwords and change them every 90 days.

Creating diverse passwords can be tricky. But whatever you do, don’t rely on a phrase or anything that is easy to guess. (Sorry, that means famous quotes and maiden names aren’t good fallbacks.) Get creative!

Here's how:

  • Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters

  • Use special characters

  • Make your passwords long (12 characters minimum)

  • Use random words strung together (instead of “merrychristmas” try “GrinchHome@loneElf18”)

Check Your Credit Report

Okay, we aren’t worried about your credit score here (actually, we never are). Instead, look through your credit report to see if anything suspicious or odd stands out to you.

You can get one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit-monitoring bureaus. This means you can check your credit report every 3–4 months. If you can stay on top of your credit report, you could have the upper hand in noticing suspicious activity.

Look for red flags like these:

  • Inactive accounts that suddenly have activity on them

  • A line of credit appears that you didn’t open

  • Your personal information is incorrect

  • A good standing account is in collections

  • A credit inquiry pops up that you didn’t apply for

We know it can be annoying to sift through your bank transactions each day. But then again, if you can make time to scroll through your social media feeds, you should be able to make time to keep your money and identity safe.

Your bank should alert you if they see anything irregular going on—but don’t rely on that. It’s much more beneficial if you're the one checking your account every single day.

Get Identity Theft Protection

A solid identity theft protection program can help keep you from being a sitting duck waiting for identity theft to find you. Be proactive! Make sure you’re prepared before you become a victim of a data breach. You can actually take action to protect yourself from identity theft!

Safeguard yourself and your family from the nightmare of identity theft. RamseyTrusted provider Zander Insurance’s identity theft protection program can give you the security and peace of mind you need.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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