I got the breach letter blues, what do I do?

With all the data breaches being reported, you may be one of more than 30 million-plus people this year to receive a breach letter. Notification letters can be unnerving and frightening. It depends on what is said, how it is phrased and the risk factors involved in the breach.

The Identity Theft Resource Center(R) (ITRC), a non-profit organization, has reviewed more than 200 letters and assisted hundreds of people who have received breach notification letters. The ITRC also maintains an up-to-date data breach list that enables us to stay current and pro-active on how best to mitigate the effects of a breach.

First, it is important to understand that a breach letter does not mean you are a victim of identity theft. A breach letter is just that – a letter telling you some data has been lost or stolen. Unless you are informed otherwise, you should NOT assume that you have been victimized. Breaches are not the only ways thieves get your information. Stolen mail, lost/stolen wallets, the Internet and scams all have significant risk factors for identity theft.

Many breach letters are not clear or are hard to understand. Under these circumstances, any element of confusion or inaccuracy may lead to outraged sensibilities, concern and/or panic. Therefore, no matter how well the breach letter is written, receiving a notification letter ranks with invitations from the IRS for tax audits and dental reminders for root canals.

This is one of those times when you have to put emotions aside and deal with the basic facts. Save the letter for review, contact information and the necessary steps to take. The key pieces of information that you need are:

  • What was exposed?
  • When was it exposed?
  • How was it exposed?
  • To whom was it potentially exposed?

You need only address the information that was compromised, i.e. the one credit card account, the one financial account, or Social Security Numbers. In some cases, it might be multiple accounts or all of the above.

In some breach notification letters, you may be offered a credit monitoring program. If your credit card is the only thing affected, a monitoring program won’t help. The ITRC has a fact sheet describing basic consumer product packages and the pros and cons of each is here.

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