What to Do if You Receive a Letter in the Mail Saying Your Information May Have Been Compromised

Cyber Security
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There are many ways your information can be compromised. Businesses try hard to account for security vulnerabilities by using a zero trust security model, implementing endpoint detection and response, and choosing the vendors they work with wisely, but smart hackers can still gain access to their systems.

If you shop or do business with one of these companies or organizations, your information can be compromised, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

Fortunately, businesses and organizations are required to tell you if your information has been compromised, but exactly what should you do when you get that letter in the mail?

Determine Your Risk Level

Before you panic and call all your financial accounts to demand new checking account numbers and credit cards, take a minute to determine your risk level. Some hacks are more serious than others.

For example, if you have subscribed to an email newsletter, but haven’t actually made any purchases, it may just be a matter of keeping an eye on your email account and recovering it if it ends up being hacked.

Check the details in the letter too. Not only will it tell you the dates that are impacted, so you can narrow down whether you did any shopping during that time, they are also required to tell you what kind of information was compromised. If it’s minimal personal information, like your full name and address, there’s no reason to panic just yet. However, if they state that financial information was stolen, you’ve got a good reason to be alarmed.

Check Your Financial Accounts

You should be checking your financial accounts regularly anyway, but it’s an especially good idea to go through your statements with a fine toothed comb if you receive a letter in the mail stating you have been hacked.

Financial accounts you should inspect include:

  • Checking accounts
  • Credit card accounts
  • Accounts you never use anymore
  • Retirement accounts

Inspect each account carefully. Many hackers withdraw or charge small amounts to see if you’ll notice. Once they have withdrawn a few cents or a few dollars successfully, they’ll come back and withdraw or charge a larger amount later. If you catch fraud on your account and change your account number when these small amounts are withdrawn, you can save yourself a lot of trouble down the road.

Check Your Credit Report

Not only do hackers like to steal money directly from personal accounts, they also like to open up new accounts in your name. If you think your financial information was stolen, you should check your credit report.

You can receive a free credit report once a year without it affecting your credit. Take advantage of it to make sure there aren’t any questionable new accounts that have been opened under your name.

Even if you aren’t due for your free report, it’s a good idea to check your credit anyway if you believe your risk level is high based on the information in the letter. Just make sure you check your reports with all three major credit bureaus to ensure a new account wasn’t reported to one bureau but not the others.

Set Up Fraud Alerts

Fraud alerts are a handy way to discover if someone has opened a new account without the need to check your credit report all the time. They are easy to set up too. All you have to do is contact one of the three major credit bureaus and request that a fraud alert be placed on your account. That’s it! The bureau you contact will request that alerts be set up on your other accounts as well.

If a new account is opened in your name, you will be notified. That way you can take action immediately if someone you don’t know takes out a loan or buys a car with your stolen information.

Freeze Your Account

A credit freeze offers more protection than a fraud alert. Instead of telling you when an account is opened in your name, your entire credit account is frozen, so no one can take out a line of credit in the first place.

This option is effective, but it’s also a little less convenient than setting up fraud alerts. A credit freeze doesn’t expire like a fraud alert does, which means you have to call back when you want to remove the freeze. It also means you can’t open up any lines of credit either unless you remember to unfreeze your account first.

Keep Important Records

Just in case the worst should happen and your information is not only compromised, but it is used by a criminal, it’s important to keep track of every document along the way, starting with the initial letter that was sent to you in the mail.

From credit reports to bank account statements, start keeping track of documents as soon as that first letter arrives. That way you can pinpoint exactly when fraud occurred, and you can make a good case for having your money returned to you if it is stolen.

Take Advantage of Freebies

Things like fraud alerts and account freezes are free, but there may be other services that are available to you at no cost as well.

Start with the company that notified you in the mail. Many times the breached company will offer services, like credit file monitoring and identity theft protection at no cost. Take advantage of it!

You should also check with your credit card accounts. Many cards offer free services you may not know about. Not only can they help you reclaim funds, they may also offer limited fraud protection services for free to their members.

It’s never a good day when you get a letter in the mail stating your information has been compromised, but don’t automatically assume the worst. Follow the tips on this list to uncover exactly how the breach could affect you so you can do what you need to do to make sure it doesn’t come to pass.

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Paschal Okafor is NaijaTechGuide Team Lead. The article What to Do if You Receive a Letter in the Mail Saying Your Information May Have Been Compromised was written by Abu Obaida. The article was last modified: October 7th, 2021
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