Data Breaches: 6 Things Consumers Can Do to Protect Privacy and Online Data

Data breaches are terrifying. They are unpredictable and unavoidable. They make us feel vulnerable, powerless, and uneasy. But there are things consumers can do to protect privacy and online data. 

The Capital One data breach is the latest to hit the news. 

In late July, Capital One announced a data breach that affected 100 million people. 

While the company said no credit card account numbers or passwords were compromised, names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and birth dates were exposed. 

According to the bank, if you applied for a card in the US between 2005 and 2019, your information is likely compromised. 

Just a few weeks before the Capital One breach, Equifax announced a $700 million settlement for the 2017 breach that the institution says affected over half the US population. 

Over a three-month period, hackers collected everything from social security numbers and birthdates to names and addresses. 

To make matters worse, hackers also got the credit card numbers of some 209,000 consumers and other documents containing personal information.

Other recent breaches include Marriott International, Target Stores, Adult Friend Finder, and eBay, just to name a few. 

And let’s not forget the biggest data breach of all time–where 3 billion Yahoo account users’ information was compromised. 

Needless to say, it’s disheartening to learn institutions we trust are vulnerable to hackers. 

 While we can’t stop these attacks nor can anyone predict when they will occur, there are things you can do to protect your privacy and online data from further harm, from scams, and from hackers.  

 

6 Things You Can Do Today to Protect Privacy and Online Data  

As institutions and technology manufacturers become more proactive about protecting our data, criminals are also becoming more proactive and creative. 

You cannot stop the next data breach. But there are things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft, fraud, and malicious online attacks. 

Take back your power with these 6 tips…

 

#1 Monitor Your Accounts Daily

things consumers can do to protect privacy

You are your best line of defense. Taking a few minutes out of each morning to check your bank and credit card accounts will help you quickly identify if something fraudulent has occurred.

No, it won’t stop fraudulent activity from occurring, but it will help you feel more in control. And should unauthorized charges show up, you can catch a problem before thieves are able to do too much damage.

In addition, if you think you are a victim of a security breach, regularly check your credit reports for suspicious activity. 

 

#2 Enroll in Identity Theft Protection & Security Fraud Programs

things consumers can do to protect privacy

Many banks offer fraud alert and other forms of protection just for being a customer.

More and more financial institutions offer text or email alerts on all debit card activities to notify when money is withdrawn or balance changes occur.

Should you get an alert of suspicious activity, you can quickly make a report and prevent further damage.

Most offer two-factor authentication to log in online, as well as voice, fingerprint, or facial recognition–all of which offer another layer of protection and prevent your password from falling into the hands of criminals.

Contact your bank for more information.

There are also a variety of identity theft monitoring services worth looking into, especially if you are a victim of the most recent data breaches.

Click here to check out CNET’s 2019 review of the best identify theft monitoring services on the market. 

 

#3 Freeze Your Credit

things consumers can do to protect privacy

If you suspect or know your data has been breached, you can minimize risk and request a credit freeze.

A credit freeze prevents most lenders from accessing your credit history. If they cannot access it, they cannot approve a loan or credit card. 

Security freezes are now free of charge with the three biggest credit reporting bureaus and are covered by Federal law.

According to Chi Chi Wi, staff attorney focused on consumer credit issues at the National Consumer Law Center, “If something goes wrong–for example, if credit accounts are fraudulently accessed anyway–consumers will be protected from financial liability.”

If your credit is frozen, and you apply for a car loan or submit an application that requires a credit check, you will need to contact each of the major credit services and ask them to lift the freeze.

Should you freeze your credit, don’t forget to freeze your child’s credit as well.

Just as criminals can use your social security number to get credit cards, open bank accounts, and apply for a loan, they can use your child’s social security number to do the same.

Important note: Credit bureaus are now pushing credit locks in lieu of credit freezes.

Consumer Reports argues that credit freezes are a better option. Click here to discover the difference, and which one is a better option to protect your financial future. 

 

#4 Frequently Update Your Devices 

things consumers can do to protect privacy
Updates secure vulnerabilities and have changes that improve security, stability, and performance of your applications. 

Which is why it’s important to update software or install patches on your phone, tablet, and computer as soon as they are available. After the update is complete, verify nothing has changed in your privacy settings. 

Should a software become antiquated and no longer supported by the manufacturer, it’s time to upgrade. 

It might be costly upfront, but it will save a lot of headache and time should you get hacked. 

While most phone and computer manufacturers are quick to alert you to updates or make them automatically for you, other devices such as security cameras and baby monitors don’t. 

Check the user’s manual for info on how to update these devices, and make sure to check for updates frequently. 

Routers also need to be updated. Should a hacker get into your router, it can significantly impact the security of your devices and your privacy

Which is why you need to regularly update router firmware. 

While manufacturers regularly release software updates, you have to find, download, and install router firmware updates. Save yourself some time and sign up to receive security notices from your router’s manufacturer so you’re alerted when new updates are rolled out. 

Another option is to replace your router with one that offers automatic updates. Many newer models now have this feature. 

If you have an old router and don’t want to spend time messing with security updates, then it’s worth spending the extra money on one that does it for you.  

 

#5 Secure Accounts and Devices with Two-factor Authentication

things consumers can do to protect privacy
Two-factor authentication requires an additional level of ID proof rather than just a password to access software, apps, and even your phone. 

And it’s the one thing that makes your passwords useless to hackers

Most online services offer two-factor authentication. 

On your phone, in addition to just needing a password to gain access, you can set up fingerprint or facial recognition for further protection. 

For some online platforms and banks, you can set it up so once you type in your password, you’re texted a one-time verification code you must type in. This means you must have your phone with you and be able to access it, in order to log in. 

If an online service or device does not already require you to use a two-factor authentication to log in, do a quick search online to find out how to enable this security feature.

 

#6 Take Your Passwords Seriously

things consumers can do to protect privacy

How many of your passwords are the same or are similar? And when is the last time you updated them?

If you’ve been using pet names or important life events as passwords, or worse, the same password for all your online activity, you may be making yourself vulnerable to hackers

If the idea of changing each and every password to something unique and having to remember all of them makes you want to run for the hills, consider using a password manager. 

Password managers create and then store long, complicated passwords for every single online account you have, and allows you to access them with one simple password that’s only known to you. 

They protect all your information online, such as credit card numbers, PINs, security questions, etc., with a strong encryption.   

Setting up a password manager is time-consuming, as you have to log in to each account, change your password, and then the password manager does the rest. But it is time well spent and will provide an extra layer of protection against hackers. 

Password managers are either free or very inexpensive. Just make sure you select one that’s reputable. 

Consumer Reports recently cited Dashlane, 1Password, KeePass, and LastPass as the most popular password managers. 

 

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