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What do security breaches mean for your personal information?

(ARA) – Recent headline-grabbing data breaches left the information of millions of people exposed. While having your personal identifiable information compromised in a data breach is disconcerting, it does not necessarily mean that you are or will become a victim of identity theft.

However, Equifax, one of the nation’s major credit reporting agencies recommends taking the following four steps, as soon as possible, to protect your personal information from misuse.

Fraud alerts – and beyond

Protect yourself against identity theft by requesting a fraud alert with one of the three major nationwide credit reporting agencies like Equifax. When you request a fraud alert with one credit reporting agency, it is reported to the other two credit reporting agencies. Fraud alerts are free and can be placed online, by phone or mail.

However, a fraud alert is not always enough to keep your personal information safe. Because fraud alerts protect against new account fraud and are only a flag to credit grantors to take extra steps to verify your identity, you might also consider placing a security freeze on your credit file. Security freezes protect against new account fraud and prevent your credit report from being reported to third parties, such as credit grantors, except those permitted by law or those you have given permission. Security freeze fees vary by state; they are not free.

Monitor your credit report

Some breached organizations offer free credit monitoring services to affected consumers for a limited time; if you receive a letter that offers free monitoring, take advantage of the offer before it expires. Credit monitoring enables you to stay on top of your account activity and protect your identity during a period of time when you may be more vulnerable to identity theft.

Monitoring products like Equifax Complete Premier typically charge a monthly fee and include these core product features like three-bureau credit report monitoring, identity theft insurance, lost wallet assistance and alerts of key changes to your credit file.

Consumers can also obtain a free, annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies at

Close accounts

Contact the appropriate creditors, banks, phone companies, and utility companies to close any accounts associated with the breached company, as well as any accounts that you know, or believe, have been compromised or opened fraudulently.

Stay alert

Identity thieves may not use your information right away–sometimes thieves take up to a year or more to use your personal information. To stay on top of the situation, continue to monitor your credit reports regularly and read your financial account statements promptly and carefully.

Stay alert for signs of identity theft like:

  • Failing to receive monthly bills or other mail
  • Being denied credit or offered less favorable terms (i.e. higher interest rate)
  • Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors for accounts you did not open

Watch out for phishing

If criminals get access to your email account, they could use it to send fraudulent emails to you. Watch out for unsolicited emails that ask you for credit card information, your Social Security number or other personal data that you want to keep secure. If an email comes through asking for “verification,” directly contact the company or agency that is allegedly sending it by phone to confirm.

While it may be hard to protect the personal information you’ve entrusted to a company or to prevent security breaches from happening, you can take steps from requesting fraud alerts to credit monitoring or frequently changing your passwords, to protect yourself and keep your information from being exposed. For more information, go to