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The Easiest Ways to Protect Yourself After a Data Breach

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Data breaches are such a pain: By no fault of your own, someone might have access to your credit card, bank account or personal information, and it’s up to you to figure out what to do about it. You’ll want to make sure you don’t become a fraud victim, but you won’t want to spend a lot of time doing that. After all, data breaches happen pretty often these days.

Doing nothing may seem like the simplest solution, but it won’t make things easy in the long run, because while you’re not paying attention, someone could run up major debt on your credit cards, seriously damage your finances and wreck your credit scores. Here are five simple ways to protect yourself after a data breach.

1. Change Your Passwords

If the website of a service you use says it was attacked, change your password. It’s a good idea to regularly update your passwords, even if there’s no data breach prompting the change, but make sure you change your email password first. Your email address is often a login credential for many sites, meaning your email account may be vulnerable to hacking, as well. This is one of many reasons you should not use the same passwords for your email and other accounts.

2. Use Two-Factor Authentication

If a service offers two-factor authentication, use it. That way, it doesn’t matter if someone steals your password (though you should still change it), because it’s much less likely they’ll be able to log into the account. It’s not a bulletproof solution, but it strengthens account security.

3. Monitor Your Credit

A sudden drop in your credit score may be a sign of credit card fraud or accounts fraudulently opened in your name. Make a habit of checking your credit scores frequently — you can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com — so you quickly notice suspicious changes. Companies suffering data breaches often offer customers free credit monitoring, so take advantage of it, but keep in mind your risk doesn’t expire when the promotional service does. Especially if a thief has possession of your personal information, like your Social Security number, he or she can commit identity theft at any point in the future.

You should check your annual credit reports, as well, if you’re not already doing so. Every consumer is entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

4. Check Your Transactions Daily

I know what you’re thinking: “Check my account transactions every day? That’s a lot of work.” It really isn’t. Even logging into your bank accounts isn’t going to take much time, because if you do it every day, you’ll only have a few (if any) new transactions to review. Mobile apps make that easy. Applications that keep track of your transactions from different accounts make it even simpler.

Your bank probably allows you to receive free alerts when a transaction clears your account, so you can passively monitor your transactions — it may sound annoying, but you probably receive many more texts in a day than you make purchases, so it’s probably not intrusive. It’s an insanely simple way to watch out for fraud: If one of your alerts is for a purchase you didn’t make, you instantly know about the problem and can shut it down.

5. Freeze Your Credit

In the event your Social Security number is compromised, you’ll want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies, and you may want to go as far as freeze your credit so no one can use your number to apply for loans or credit cards. If you want to apply for credit, you’ll have to remove the freeze, but it may be worth the hassle — identity theft is destructive and expensive.

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