Two huge data breaches made front page news in the past two weeks. Home Depot discovered its systems were compromised in September exposing the data of 56 million credit and debit card holders. The good news, at least for now, is there’s no evidence the personal identification numbers for customer debit cards were compromised.
More troubling is the data theft that took place over the summer at JP Morgan Chase Bank. There have been several data thefts from retail stores this past year where credit and debit card data were stolen – Target, Neiman Marcus, Michael’s Stores, etc. The fact the largest bank in America was compromised is disturbing.
The data stolen from Chase Bank’s servers was different as it included the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of 76 million households and 7 million small businesses. The customers affected were the ones who use the Chase and JP Morgan website and apps. So far, there’s no evidence account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, or dates of birth were stolen.
If you don’t bank at Chase, you’re not off the hook. About nine other financial institutions have been breached by the same group of hackers that broke into Chase’s systems. No one has released the names of the other financial institutions, nor have they stated whether they are banks or brokerage firms.
The news of these two attacks should be a wakeup call for each of us. Instead of thinking there’s nothing we can do and being a passive victim, I believe it’s time for taking appropriate steps to protect ourselves and our data from the damage that can come from these attacks.
At a minimum, here are six steps to better protect yourself from credit and identity theft:
- Review all your account statements monthly for anything unusual such as small purchases in a different part of the country. Many times a person with a stolen account number will make a ”test” purchase for something less than $5 before moving to something bigger.
- If you bank online from your computer, or use an app on your smartphone, when was the last time you changed your PIN or password? Change them every 90 days, as well as passwords for eBay, PayPal, your local utility company, online retailers, etc.
- Beware of phishing emails and phone calls that appear to be from your bank or other financial institution. A legitimate phone call or email will not ask you for your account data or your personal information (date of birth, social, etc.).
- Consider a credit monitoring service that monitors your credit for you. Each of the three main credit bureaus and numerous third party companies offer them. There are also some services that will “lock” your credit and keep people from opening accounts or obtaining credit in your name.
- Review your social security information annually. Go to www.ssa.gov, create an account, and login to verify your earnings. This is a great way to determine no one’s stolen your identity.
- Replace your credit and debit cards. If you’ve shopped or banked somewhere that’s been breached, replace your debit and credit cards without waiting for your financial institution to do that for you.
While assurances from executives at Home Depot and Chase may feel good, I believe it’s better to implement these changes now rather than after something’s happened.
What are you doing to protect yourself against credit and identity theft? Share your suggestions, experiences, and questions with us in the comments section of our blog or on our Facebook and Google+ pages. I’d love to hear from you!