Data breach is a term that is used when a company or organization misplaces your information, or when that information is leaked or hacked. That lost information can leave you wide open to becoming a victim of identity theft.
Some of the larger data breaches have become national headlines, while others managed to stay off the front page. There may be no way to know if your information was lost in a data breach, unless you become the victim of identity theft. And then it's too late.
The government has several laws in place that require an organization that loses your information to notify you of the breach. This is, of course, assuming that the organization is aware of it. A company may not realize it has had a breach until customers report they've been victimized by identity theft. This sparks an investigation, and someone finds that a server was hacked or breached in some way.
In the past year, it's estimated that more than 110 million individual records have been compromised since this year started – and that's a conservative estimate, because many were not reported or the organization was unable to determine how many customers were affected.
You can't stop identity theft because you can't control your personal information. Your employer has it, your insurance provider has it, your utility company has it and your government has it…even your schools, doctor and favorite pizza place have it.
The best defense is to know how your identity can be misused, watch for the warning signs and have a plan of action for when it happens.
Your identity can be stolen and used to obtain credit or bank accounts, get medical services, commit crimes, obtain fraudulent identification, obtain a cell phone, get a mortgage or payday loan, or turn the utilities on at the thief's new residence. There are a multitude of ways the information can be used, but in a nutshell, a thief can use your information to do just about anything you would do with it.
If your identity has been compromised, you will likely hear about it first when you receive a call from a debt collector. You may also notice fraudulent or questionable charges on your bank or credit card statement, or your credit report.
To get things back in order, you will first want to file a police report, and contact your creditors and your bank. You will also want to contact the one of the three credit bureaus (which is required to contact the other two) to place fraud alerts on your credit report.
Work with creditors to clean up the bad marks on your credit report, and recognized that restoring your good name won't happen overnight. It is possible to set things right – so be patient.