JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Consumer Reports says that while we were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 150 million people were also dealing with data breaches that put everything from passwords to their financial information at risk.
Nicholas De Leon, who is Consumer Reports’ tech editor, knows what it’s like to be a victim. On April 15, 2019, he got alerts saying he had signed up for several credit cards.
“I didn’t know what was happening. I hadn’t signed up for any new credit cards,” Nicholas said.
Since he hadn’t received a notice about a data breach, Nicholas checked online to see where his personal information was compromised.
“It was scary. It was stressful. And the worst part was that I was on the hook to clean up the mess,” he explained.
Consumer Reports says sometimes, companies will contact you to let you know if you’re the victim of a data breach. But you can also do some digging online yourself to find out what information was compromised. The website Have I Been Pwned will tell you if it’s your email address, phone number, or password.
“If your password was compromised, change it everywhere you used it,” warned Bree Fowler, Consumer Reports’ senior tech writer.
Though convenient, It’s a good reminder not to reuse passwords. Don’t worry about having to remember new ones -- A password manager does that for you. Consumer Reports recommends one called 1Password, which creates and stores complex, unique passwords for each of your accounts.
And since cybercriminals can use your personal information to try to log into your accounts, use something called multi-factor authentication which requires a second form of identification to log in.
“Often, it’s a code sent to your phone. But we recommend using a form that’s more secure than that,” Fowler said.
If your Social Security number or financial information were part of a data breach, Consumer Reports suggests freezing your credit since it restricts access to your credit history, which is what Nicholas did after his identity was stolen.
“I plan to keep my credit frozen forever because that’s the safer thing to do,” Nicholas said.
One thing to keep in mind if you freeze your credit: You will need to unfreeze your before you apply for a car loan, mortgage, credit card or anything that pulls information from your credit history.
And don’t forget to take advantage of the free weekly credit reports that are offered. Before the pandemic, it was free to check once a year, but because of COVID, the three national credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- are giving free access once a week until April of next year. Visit annualcreditreport.com to sign up.