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Posted on December 22, 2014 by in Data Breach & Technology, Personal

Another day, another data breach.

When it comes to information security, data breach risk may seem so commonplace that it’s easy to become desensitized to it. With so many alarm bells sounding, how do you know what might affect you — and what’s just part of the noise?

Ignoring data breach risk could leave you vulnerable. The good news? You don’t have to become a security expert to boost your consumer privacy. Here are some tips to help you navigate the breaches:

Pay attention to which companies are breached. In 2013, an EA Games server was compromised, with attackers capturing Apple ID account information. If you’re not a big gamer, you probably weren’t affected. But keep in mind that retailers like Target, Michael’s and The Home Depot also experienced recent data breaches, which might hit a little closer to home for you. Staying aware of consumer privacy announcements at companies where you shop can be important for protecting yourself.

Look at the timeframe for a breach. Every security incident has a window of time in which information was snatched from company servers. For example, The Home Depot had data taken between April and September 2014. Knowing the timeframes makes it easier to determine if you’ve been affected, because you can check your credit card or bank records to see if you shopped at the retailer during that time.

Take time to read the company’s notification. By law, a company must notify you if there’s a reasonable chance that you’ve been affected by a data breach. Even though this might mean you get a form letter, be sure to read through it, as it may contain valuable guidance on what steps to take. For instance, a letter may let you know when and where a breach occurred, and whether the company is offering any services to those affected. The letter may also note whether the data breach involved online account access, credit cards, driver’s license numbers or social security numbers.

Don’t click on links in emails about the breach. In a particularly nasty twist to data breaches, some hackers send fraudulent emails that include a link that supposedly leads to consumer information. These links can direct you to malicious sites that contain malware. A better tactic is typing a store’s name directly into a browser window and navigating to announcements about the breach.

Change your passwords. This is common advice, but it’s surprising how often it’s not followed. Hackers usually go after the easily guessed passwords first (e.g. “12345”) and harvest information from those accounts before trying to crack harder passwords. Make it impossible for them by making your passwords unbreakable.

Most likely, the alarm about data breaches will keep on ringing as hackers continue to crack into corporate systems. But that doesn’t mean you should feel powerless when it comes to protecting yourself. If you are concerned about a data breach compromising your identity, consider signing up for IdentityForce; our identity theft protection services monitor your accounts and will alert you to take action before any damage is done.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Yuri Samoilov.