Data breaches are just a fact of life in the twenty-first century. At any given time, there may be dozens of businesses and institutions that have some of your personal records, from health information to financial data and even personal information like your social name, date of birth, and even security number.
For the most part, your data is secure with these various entities, and most of them have robust security systems in place. However, as well as your data is protected, criminals will eventually find a way, and sometimes they can get some of your private information. In some cases, the hackers use this data for identity theft or other illegal activity. More often, though, the hackers turn around and sell vast packages of personal data on the black market or “dark web” to other criminals.
When Companies are Breached
When a company discovers that your private data was compromised, they may send out a letter or email to let you know about it. In fact, many types of businesses and institutions are required by law to send such notifications. However, that is where the legal obligation ends. Once you know about the breach, you are responsible for doing something about it.
We’ve posted elsewhere about how to put a freeze on your credit and other steps you can take to avoid identity theft. In some cases, the institutions try to save face by offering some help, often in the form of free credit monitoring. In most cases, the monitoring is for a limited time, for example, one year. The monitoring is optional and usually intended to maintain some good will with the affected customers. But before you dive into free credit monitoring, you should stop and ask a few questions.
The Truth About Free Credit Monitoring
The most important question to ask about free credit monitoring is what happens when the free offer runs out. If the offer is for one year of free monitoring, one of two things could happen at the end of that year. One possibility is that your monitoring would end, and you would no longer receive the benefit of notifications and safety measures in case of attempted identity theft. But in many cases, there is another option: automatic renewal for a fee. If you don’t actively cancel your credit monitoring, you may be charged a fee every month for a service you thought was free. That sounds like the opposite of credit monitoring if you ask us. So before you sign up, ask a few questions to make sure your solution to unwanted financial activity doesn’t become the problem it’s trying to prevent.