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Better Business Bureau - BBB Offers Tips to Avoid Data Breaches and the Red Flags of Data Theft


We’ve seen several data breach announcements this year, including the AT&T breach that has potentially impacted 73 million people. Data breaches are more common these days, especially as companies are collecting and storing more customer data than ever before. It’s extremely important to be proactive in protecting your information as much as possible.

No two data breaches are the same, and each incident can expose unique information. People affected by a breach may be at an increased risk for identity theft. Thieves may use stolen information to fraudulently apply for credit, unemployment benefits, and more. In some cases, individuals’ financial accounts may be accessible to thieves.

While it’s hard to fully avoid data breaches, especially since some breaches occur when we use credit or debit cards, there are steps you can take when shopping online shopping or managing accounts online to help minimize the chances.

First, always confirm you’re on a website that is using secure protocols before sharing any personal information. Basic security measures include “HTTPS” protocol, which should appear in the start of a company’s URL. (The “s” signifies the security of the page). You should also find a closed lock symbol or similar designation that allows you to confirm that the page is secure.

In addition, verify the company offers a clear and detailed privacy policy if they’re collecting personally identifiable information on their site, and review it to learn what steps the company will take to protect your information. Also look for and check the validity of trust seals like BBB’s Accredited Business seal.

Another area where you’ll want to use caution is social media. It can be easy to be pulled into oversharing information online. It’s not just about your social security number; online quizzes and games may put you at risk! When you share things like your first pet’s name or the town you were born in, this can be used to hack your accounts - especially if you’ve used the same data in passwords and/or security questions.

Watch for signs your information has been compromised:
You may be able to identify compromised data before a breach is publicly declared. Signs can include unexplained withdrawals, charges, and new accounts that have been opened in your name or under your social security number.

It’s easiest to do this if you set up a routine to consistently check your bank transactions and financial transactions. You’ll also want to set up a schedule for checking your credit report through each of the three major credit bureaus. You can do this for free by using the officially authorized site, By selecting a different creditor to request your report each time, you can space these checks out throughout the year.

Another proactive step is to keep a schedule of when your bills are due. A tip-off for identity theft comes when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to set up automatic alerts on your accounts so you are notified every time a transaction is made.

If you learn that your data was involved in a data breach, we encourage you to stay calm. Individuals are not liable for fraudulent charges on stolen account numbers, and most companies offer resources to help you monitor your information to detect compromises.

If you receive a notice, confirm its validity by checking the website of the company that was breached. Be sure you’re using an authentic URL to visit the company’s site, and do NOT click on a link from an email or social media message, as this could be an ID theft scam on its own. Visiting the wrong site could cause malware to be loaded on your computer.

If the company is offering you credit monitoring services, be sure to check out the monitoring company’s report with BBB to verify they have a strong rating and customer experience record.

If your data has potentially been breached you’ll want to consider putting a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies, which can be done at Once you set these up with one of the creditors, it should extend to all three. A credit freeze will prevent anyone from accessing your credit report or scores whereas a fraud alert flags your account but does not automatically stop new credit from being opened in your name.

If you see a fraudulent charge on your bank or credit card statements, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately, using the number that appears on your credit card. They’ll work with you to reverse the charge and issue a new card to you. Keep receipts in case you need to prove which charges you authorized and which ones you did not.

If your debit card has been breached, immediately contact your bank, and discuss obtaining a new debit card or putting a security block on your account. Debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards and debit transactions withdraw funds directly from your bank account.

Overall, stay aware of calls or other forms of contact from people who may purport to be from the retailer, your bank, or your credit card issuer, telling you that your card was compromised and suggesting actions to “fix” the problem. They may be aware of the breach because they’re behind it and are using the opportunity to gain more of your information directly from you.

Kelvin Collins is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia, and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB). The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: or E-mail: