What to do if You Are the Victim of a Data Breach

Three steps to take if your personal information is leaked from a corporation.

A woman works on a computer in a white office, image
When a company’s records are lost or stolen, your sensitive information can land in the hands of an identity thief.
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

You hear about data breaches happening to all types and sizes of businesses, from local dental clinics to the big credit reporting agencies. The discomforting part is the privacy of our data depends on the companies with which we share it. Sometimes those companies share data with third-party vendors we don’t even know about. 

When a company’s records are lost or stolen, your sensitive information—like your Social Security number or bank account information—can land in the hands of an identity thief. The thief can use your information to siphon money from your bank account, gain access to your credit cards, or create new accounts in your name. As a result, your credit reports may be blemished and you could start receiving phone calls from collection agencies.

What You Should Know

If a data breach occurs at a company, state laws typically require the business to notify affected customers within a certain amount of time or be subject to a fine. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands now have data breach laws. Sometimes companies that have had a data breach will offer to pay for six to 12 months of credit monitoring for affected individuals. While this is something the Federal Trade Commission recommends to businesses that have suffered a data breach, it isn’t a requirement.


What to Do if You Are a Victim

If your personal information is compromised, take these three steps immediately.

Contact one of the three credit bureaus. Have an initial security alert added to your credit report that can help prevent further damage. Additional precautions will be taken to make sure anyone applying for credit in your name is you. You will have more time to investigate and get a free copy of your credit report. 

File a police report. A police report can help you place long-term alerts on your credit report and help you recover from fraud and other crimes in which your identity was used.  

Review your credit report for suspicious information or activity. Request a copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus. Also review your billing statements and immediately notify each creditor to dispute fraudulent charges. Keep detailed records of your conversations and interactions.

This article was first published in September 2016 and last updated in March 2021.