January 24, 2024

How to respond if your data has been breached: Essential steps

How to respond if your data has been breached: Essential steps

A data breach occurs when an unauthorized party gains access to confidential data. The phrase “data breach” tends to bring to mind widely publicized attacks on business networks — and correctly so — but data breaches also occur on an individual level via phishing schemes and other social engineering attacks. Regardless of how your data is leaked, it’s critical to respond quickly and proactively to improve your chances of recovering your losses.

In 2023, two separate T- Mobile breaches leaked the data of 37 million and 836 users’ data, respectively. The leaks compromised sensitive personal information like names and dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and T-Mobile account PINs. In the hands of a hacker, this information can easily lead to severe consequences like financial loss and identity theft.

Data breaches tarnish businesses’ reputations and put consumers at risk for fraud. Keep reading to learn about the essential steps to take if your data has been breached.

Identifying if you're affected by a data breach

Data breaches often happen to businesses, but it’s typically users’ personal information that gets leaked. It may take some time to realize your data has been compromised in a breach — according to IBM, it takes an average of 204 days to even identify a data breach and another 73 to contain it — so it’s wise to be conscious of the warning signs.

Signs of a data breach

If you recognize the signs of a data breach right away, you can waste no time in working to protect your data and recover your losses. Some red flags stand out more than others, so familiarize yourself with these warning signs to catch them from a distance:

  • Notification from the breached business: After a data breach, the company that was breached is legally required to notify any affected individuals and businesses.
    • The business that was breached will generally reach out via email or text message.
    • Watch out for phony breach notices from scammers posing as the business that was breached.
    • Search for news of the breach and official instruction; don’t click the link in a shady email or give away personal information in response to an unexpected text message.
  • Changes to account information: Take notice of new or changed information in your online accounts, as scammers may add or alter account details to redirect communications or make it look like they’re the real owner.
    • E.g., new mailing addresses or linked bank accounts
  • Account lockouts: When cybercriminals get hold of your data, they may hack into your accounts and change your login credentials to lock you out before you can do the same.
  • Unauthorized activity: If you notice suspicious or fraudulent activity in any of your online accounts, hackers may have acquired your information in a data breach.

Confirming breach involvement

While businesses are obligated to disclose data breaches, it may take a long time for them to do so. If you suspect your data has been compromised but you haven’t received a notice about a breach, be extra vigilant. Regularly check the news for recent data breaches, keep an eye on your accounts, and consider inquiring with the major credit bureaus. You can also use resources like haveibeenpwned.com to see if your information has been leaked in a data breach.

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Immediate steps to take post-data breach

If you’ve lost information in a data breach, time is of the essence. The sooner you take action, the better your chances of minimizing damages and avoiding severe consequences like financial loss and identity theft.

Securing your accounts

Losing your data to cybercriminals can be scary, but you may be able to secure your accounts before they can use your information against you. Use these tips to catch fraudulent activity and revoke unauthorized access to your accounts:

  • Determine what information was stolen. If you suffered a personal data breach due to a phone scam, consider what kind of information the fraudster got away with so you can create a recovery plan. If you lost information in a data breach, find out exactly what data was stolen.
  • Contact financial institutions and account providers. Close bank accounts that may have been compromised, request new credit cards, and make account providers aware of the situation.
  • Monitor online activity. Check on all of your online accounts and apps on a regular basis to spot suspicious activity sooner rather than later.
  • Enable mobile alerts. Enroll in text or email alerts to receive messages like account updates and potential fraud notices.

Changing passwords and enhancing security measures

If your personal information has been leaked, it’s critical to be proactive in improving your online security. Follow these steps to tighten your defenses and thwart criminals’ attempts to hack you:

  • Change login credentials. If you change your usernames, passwords, and PIN codes immediately, you may be able to close hackers out of your accounts before they can do any damage.
    • Change these credentials for all online accounts that may have been affected, and continue to change them on a regular basis going forward.
  • Enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication (2FA or MFA). Require an additional code along with your login credentials in order to access your online accounts.
    • Never share these codes via phone call or text message.
    • Legitimate businesses will never ask you for 2FA or MFA codes outside of the platform they were intended for.
  • Upgrade your firewalls and antivirus software. Combat malware and viruses with reliable firewalls and up-to-date antivirus programs.
    • Equip all of your devices — like your laptop, desktop computer, cell phone, and tablet — with software that combats viruses and security vulnerabilities.
  • Update your operating systems. Run the latest operating systems on all of your devices to take advantage of up-to-date security features.
    • Many new operating systems introduced enhanced security features that better protect your devices from cybercriminals.

Protecting your identity and finances

A data breach can put your identity and financial security in jeopardy, as scammers may use your personal information to commit fraud in your name and transfer your money into their bank accounts. The good news is that there are ways you can protect your identity, finances, and credit reputation from large-scale data breaches as well as individual-based social engineering attacks.

Fraud alerts and credit freezes

Criminals use your personal data to apply for loans, credit cards, and other new lines of credit in your name. When they fail to pay off the debts they incur (which become your debts), your reputation as a borrower suffers. Placing fraud alerts and credit freezes on your file can help prevent hackers from committing fraud and tarnishing your credit report. You can do so by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies:

While fraud alerts and credit freezes can both help you avoid financial fraud and protect your identity, they work slightly differently.

  • A fraud alert requires lenders to verify the prospective borrower’s identity before approving applications and granting new credit.
  • A credit freeze prevents new accounts from being opened in your name until you unfreeze your credit.

Since criminals can potentially work around a fraud alert and continue to open new accounts in your name, it may be safer to freeze your credit after a data breach.

Monitoring financial statements

Consistent fraud monitoring can help you catch unauthorized account activity as soon as it happens, allowing you to swiftly intervene and attempt to reverse fraudulent charges. You can manually look through your debit and credit card statements on a routine basis, or you can use a specialized service to monitor your finances and alert you to suspicious activity.

Use Robokiller to protect your data

An astonishing 95% of American consumers have had some form of personal data exposed online. This means the majority of Americans are vulnerable to financial fraud and identity theft by cybercriminals who use people’s private data against them.

Robokiller’s personal data protection services scan the internet for your personal information and promptly remove it. If it shows up again, we’ll remove it again. Robokiller also blocks spam texts and scam calls that solicit confidential data for the purposes of selling it on the dark web or using it to steal from you.

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Navigating legal and recovery processes

Data breach recovery can be a lengthy and ongoing process, but there are agencies dedicated to helping businesses and consumers navigate the waters. Be sure to report data breaches and scam attempts to the appropriate authorities and take advantage of the resources they have to offer.

Reporting the breach

Timely reporting of a data breach can help you recover your losses as well as enable others to protect their identities and private data. Report data breaches, scam attempts, and suspicious behavior as soon as possible.

Seeking legal advice and support

When a business suffers a data breach, they typically offer impacted users recourse to help them protect themselves from the potential consequences. Not all companies offer support voluntarily, however, and sometimes it takes a class-action lawsuit for the breached business to begin making amends. Victims may be vulnerable in the meantime, so some consider seeking legal services during the aftermath of a data breach.

Whether you lost your data in a business-related breach or you were tricked into revealing personal information to a scammer, there are resources you can use to protect your data and identity. Use the FTC’s free identity theft resources and request a no-cost credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com to check for signs of fraud.

Bolstering your defenses against future breaches

It’s imperative to take action quickly after a data breach. Fortunately, by recognizing the signs, securing your accounts, and contacting the appropriate authorities, you can help prevent and protect yourself from cybersecurity threats. Use a scam blocker like Robokiller to fully round out your defenses and take back your peace of mind.

Robokiller blocks 99% of unwanted scam texts and spam calls from reaching your phone, so scammers looking to steal your data won’t be able to get through. We also offer personal data protection scans that continuously eliminate your personal information from data broker sites. To date, we’ve prevented over $740 million in losses to phone scams.

Bolster your defense against data breaches and protect your data from cybercriminals when you start your free 7-day trial of Robokiller today.


How do I know if my data has been breached?

Businesses are legally required to notify affected customers after a data breach, but there’s no set timeline for when they must reach out. If you suspect you may have had information compromised in a data breach, keep an eye on the news and look out for signs of fraudulent activity in your personal and financial accounts.

What are the first actions I should take after a data breach?

If you find out you’ve lost data in a breach, quickly secure your accounts and take extra measures to improve your security. Change your login credentials across all online accounts, notify financial institutions if you’ve lost financial information, and call the police if you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft.

How can I protect myself from identity theft following a data breach?

Protect your identity after a data breach by closing any accounts that were compromised, placing a fraud alert or freeze on your credit with the major reporting bureaus, and notifying local law enforcement of scams and fraud attempts. Use Robokiller to remove your personal information from the internet and block scam calls and texts from reaching your phone.

Should I report a data breach, and if so, to whom?

Whether your business suffered a data breach or you gave away your own personal information to a scammer, it’s important to report the event in a timely fashion and to the appropriate authorities. Businesses are required to disclose data breaches to different parties based on state law, including the individuals whose data was compromised and any companies that may be affected. Individual consumers should report data breaches and scam attempts to the FTC and local law enforcement as soon as possible.

What long-term measures should I take to protect my data?

Practicing proper cybersecurity hygiene can help keep your personal information private and secure over the long term. Use a password manager to store unique, complex passwords for each of your online accounts, and refrain from sharing private information like login credentials and account information online. Use a scam blocker and data protector like Robokiller to ward off phone scams and keep your personal data off the web.

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