More About How to Protect Yourself From Data Breaches

In previous editions of FDIC Consumer News , we have discussed what you should know about data breaches, in which customers' credit or debit card information was stolen by cyber thieves who hacked into a business's computer systems. Because of ongoing media attention and consumer concerns, we have decided to remind you about our previous tips and add some new ones.

"While there isn't really anything consumers can do to prevent a breach, you can be on the lookout for signs that something like this has occurred," said Jeff Kopchik, a Senior Policy Analyst with the FDIC. "And, if you receive formal notice from your bank or a retailer that your credit or debit card information was stolen as a result of a breach, there are steps you can take to protect yourself."

How can you avoid losing money due to a security breach?

  • Review your bank and credit card statements regularly to look for suspicious transactions. If you have online access to your bank and credit card accounts, it is a good idea to check them regularly, perhaps weekly, for transactions that aren't yours.
  • Contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report a problem. Debit card users in particular should promptly report a lost card or an unauthorized transaction. Unlike the federal protections for credit cards that cap losses from fraudulent charges at $50, your liability limit for a debit card could be up to $500, or more, if you don't notify your bank within two business days after discovering the loss or theft.
  • Periodically review your credit reports to make sure someone hasn't obtained credit in your name. By law, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major consumer reporting agencies (also known as credit bureaus) once every 12 months. Because their reports may differ, consider spreading out your requests during the year. To order a free report, go to or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.
  • If you find an unfamiliar account on your credit report, call the fraud department at the consumer reporting agency that produced it. If that account turns out to be fraudulent, consider asking for a "fraud alert" to be placed in your file at the three main credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports that you have been a victim of fraud and that they should verify any new accounts being opened in your name or changes to your existing accounts.
  • What if you place a fraud alert in your credit files and then you apply somewhere for a new credit card, mortgage or other loan? Expect that the lender will call you for a confirmation. However, be aware that the fraud alert also may slow down the process of obtaining that new credit while the lender verifies your identity.
  • An additional but more serious step is to place a "credit freeze" on your credit report, which means that the credit bureaus cannot provide your credit report to lenders who request it. That, in turn, may prevent criminals from obtaining credit in your name, but it also will stop you from getting new credit until you lift the freeze. 
  • Pay attention to notices from your retailer or your bank about a security breach. In the event of a large-scale breach, you may receive notice that your credit card is being replaced with one that has a new account number.
  • Also, the retailer may offer you free credit-monitoring services, usually for up to one year. "This service provides an excellent way to see if a cyber thief is using the stolen information to apply for new credit cards or loans in your name," Kopchik said. "And if you are not offered free credit monitoring, you may want to consider buying it at your own expense." Note: A credit-monitoring service can be costly, so research the options thoroughly and understand that you can monitor your own credit reports for free, as previously described.
  • Be on guard against scams offering "help" after a data breach. Be very careful about responding to an unsolicited e-mail promoting credit monitoring services, since many of these offers are fraudulent. If you're interested in credit monitoring and it's not being offered for free by your retailer or bank, do your own independent research to find a reputable service.
  • For additional information about data breaches and protecting yourself, see an advisory from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has been publishing FDIC Consumer News quarterly since 1993 to help people protect their money, including tips in practically every issue about how to avoid financial fraud and theft.  A lot has changed over the years, especially consumers’ increased reliance on computers and the Internet — the “cyber” world — for everything from shopping and communicating to banking and bill paying.  While the benefits of faster and more convenient cyber services for bank customers are clear, the risks posed by these services, as well as the strategies for preventing or recovering from cyber-related crimes, may not be as well-known by the average consumer and small business owner. 

That is why the FDIC has produced this special edition of our newsletter — a guide to safe online banking that features precautions to take at home and when banking remotely (using laptop computers, smartphones and other mobile devices).  We include tips and information for parents and guardians wanting to protect their children from online fraud and identity theft, and for small businesses needing to secure their computer systems and data. You’ll also learn about what banks and bank regulators are doing to protect your money.

Note: This and other issues of FDIC Consumer News can be read or printed at Check back there for versions of this issue for e-readers and portable audio (MP3) players. Single copies of this special edition and articles referenced here are available upon request to the FDIC’s Public Information Center (toll-free 1-877-275-3342 or [email protected]).  Our publication also may be reprinted in whole or in part without permission. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the nation’s consumer protection agency. The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace.