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Data breach breakdown: what a data breach is (and what to do if you’re a victim)

Fast fix: If you think there’s any chance your data has been compromised, contact a Security Advisor expert for immediate assistance.

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With our increasing dependence on technology and the vast amount of personal information being stored online, data breaches have surged. In 2024, we’ve already witnessed the “mother of all breaches," Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to infiltrate systems and steal sensitive data. But what exactly is a data breach? Why do they happen? And what do you do if it happens to you? 

At Verizon, we strive to educate people daily about their technology, including how to safeguard personal information in both the digital and physical realms. That’s why our experts put together this comprehensive guide explaining data breaches, steps to help avoid them, and what to do next if you’re a victim.  

What is a data breach?

When a data security breach happens, your private, protected, or personal information can be exposed without your consent or knowledge due to unauthorized access. This can happen to anyone— an individual, a business, or even a government. Data that may be compromised includes: 

  • Emails or passwords  
  • Social Security numbers  
  • Driver's license details  
  • Personal health data  
  • Bank account or credit card details  
  • Trade secrets  
  • Intellectual property  

What to do if your data is been breached: 

If you discover that your data has been breached, take immediate action to protect yourself.  

Here are some security measures you should follow ASAP: 

  1. Review the email or letter warning you about the data breach: Companies are legally required to notify customers of a data breach involving their information. Scrutinize these notifications to fully grasp the extent of the breach, including what data was involved. The subject line may seem harmless, such as “Data Security Incident Notification,” or “Our Commitment to Your Security.” 
  2. Contact your financial institution: If the breach has compromised your bank or credit card information, get in touch with your bank immediately. They can keep an eye on your account for any irregular charges or fraudulent actions and issue you a new card number if required. 
  3. Enable two-factor authentication: Add an extra layer of safety to your accounts by turning on two-factor authentication. This process usually entails entering a code or verifying your identity via a second device or application when logging into a password-protected account. 
  4. Change your password: Develop a robust, unique password that incorporates a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Refrain from using personal details and never recycle the same password for different accounts. Consider employing a password manager to safely manage and store your passwords. 
  5. Request free credit monitoring: The three credit agencies—Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®—are presently offering free weekly online credit reports. These services can help you keep a close eye on your credit for suspicious activities or potential identity theft incidents.  

How to protect yourself from data breaches:

While there's no guaranteed protection against data breaches, sticking to these preventive measures can help safeguarding your private information from cybercriminals. 

  • Keep devices, apps, and operating systems up-to-date. Install updates as soon as they’re available.  
  • Create strong, unique passwords for all your logins. Weak passwords are often exploited.  
  • Consider using a password manager to help remember, and never reuse passwords. 
  • Pay close attention to your bank statements. Spotting even small, unfamiliar charges could be an indication that your data has been compromised. 
  • If you receive suspicious emails, don’t open them. It's safest to delete them outright.   
  • Stick to secure websites. If you’re not sure, it’s probably not secure.  
  • Your Social Security number should only be given out when absolutely necessary.  
  • If you have old accounts that are no longer in use, it's best to delete them.

Data breaches are a significant concern, especially in our modern always-online era. To stay safe, it’s crucial to be proactive about protecting personal information, and to take immediate action if your security is ever compromised. But by taking preventative measures and following the recommended steps from Verizon experts, you can minimize risk and better safeguard your sensitive data.  

Still need help with your digital security? Our experts are here to help, call 844-288-2146.

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