Protecting yourself in the face of a data breach

By Pat Brinkman - OSU Extension

During mid-May through July of 2017, 143 million Americans were victims of a data breach at Equifax, a major credit reporting agency. In this data breach, sensitive information such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and in some case credit card information were among the data accessed by hackers. If you were one of the unlucky people whose personal information was compromised, you have likely begun taking steps to protect your information. (If you have not done so, you should check to see if your personal information was potentially impacted).

Even if your information was not compromised in this security breach, this event has left many of us wondering how we can take steps to protect ourselves and our information as we move forward. Here are a few steps that you can take to protect yourself in the event of a data breach:

Regularly monitor your bank and credit accounts: This is always an advisable practice, but it is especially important to regularly monitor your bank account and credit accounts if your personal information has been compromised. You’ll want to regularly check any bank and credit accounts, keeping an eye open for any suspicious or unrecognizable charges.

Check your credit reports: Again, this is always an advisable practice but doing so in the event of compromised personal information will allow you to keep an eye on any credit activity that you do not recognize.

Look into a fraud alert or possible credit freeze: If your personal information has been compromised (or even if you suspect it has) you may choose to place a fraud alert. Placing a fraud alert is a free precaution to take that makes it a little more difficult to open new credit in your name by warning creditors that your personal information may have been compromised. This warning then prompts creditors to take additional steps to verify the identity of anyone seeking to make changes to your credit.

It could also be advisable to freeze your credit, which makes it very difficult for thieves to open new credit in your name by freezing your credit reports and restricting access. If you were affected by the Equifax breach, Equifax is offering free credit freezes until Nov. 21, 2017.

It is important to note that there are a few intricacies in the differences between a credit freeze and fraud alert, so it is my suggestion that you look closely into each option if your personal information is compromised.

If you would like more information on what to do to protect your information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s FTC Identify Theft that provides steps to take depending on the kind of information that was compromised.

Answers to these questions and more are available through the Live Smart Ohio website which offers a consumer blog written by professionals with Ohio State University Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences that’s focused on promoting health and wellness statewide. The site, at, offers consumers research-based information on topics including money; food; mind and body; and family and relationships, all focused on helping Ohioans live smarter, said Amanda Woods, Healthy Finances program specialist for OSU Extension. (Author: Woods, A. [2017]. Live Smart Ohio blog Available at )

Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator with Ohio State University Extension Fayette County.

By Pat Brinkman

OSU Extension