A crib sheet to surviving a big data breach

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Data breaches are, sadly, a fact of our lives. Consider the last 12 months: 145.5 million people's data was compromised during Equifax's mega-data breach, while a reported 87 million Facebook users had their personal info improperly shared with a political consultancy.

It's easy to develop data breach fatigue, but identity theft is a real mess to clean. Fortunately, there are smart steps you can take after a hack to lower the odds of falling victim. Here's a crib sheet to surviving a big data breach.

  1. Check your credit reports for signs of fraud, like unfamiliar loans, loan applications or addresses. You can get your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.

  2. Monitor your bank statements for fraudulent charges. If you spot some, call your bank ASAP to dispute the charges and have your debit or credit card canceled and replaced.

  3. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank that'll help you spot fraud. Most of them offer notifications for overdrafts, large transactions or credit limit issues.

  4. Keep an eye on your credit scores for any sudden dips, another sign fraud is afoot. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites, like Credit Sesame, that let you monitor your digits regularly for free.

  5. Consider a credit freeze, especially if you think your Social Security number was stolen. Credit freezes block identity thieves from taking out new loans in your name. You can learn more about a credit freeze here.

  6. Alternately, put a fraud alert on your credit report. That way, the credit bureaus will at least notify you if something strange hits your file. You can request alerts by contacting each credit bureau directly.

  7. Get identity theft insurance, if you want help monitoring your credit and restoring your identity, should a crime occur down the line. You can learn more about how identity theft insurance works here.

  8. Change your passwords, especially if login credentials were stolen and you use the same password across accounts (not recommended, BTW).

  9. Make 'em long and strong. The best passwords contain a robust mix of letters, numbers and symbols. They don't include information fraudsters can readily glean from social media, like the name of your dog.

  10. Familiarize yourself with other signs of fraud, like subprime credit offers in the mail, weird W-2s or a sudden on-slaught of calls from debt collectors.

  11. Know what to do if you fall victim. Most notably, file a police report, dispute fraudulent line items, charges and/or accounts with creditors and the credit bureaus and notify the Federal Trade Commission right away.

  12. File your taxes early. Tis the season. Filing early is the only surefire way to preempt a stolen tax refund.

We've got more on dealing with identity theft here.

Disclosure: Policygenius offers insurance policies from many of the nation's top insurers, who pay us a commission for our services. However, all editorial choices are made independently.

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