6 steps to take after your data have been breached

Pile of credit cards

Recent data breaches at Citigroup, marketing firm Epsilon Data Management and Michaels craft stores have left everything from email addresses to financial information at risk for identity theft.

Those are just some of the higher-profile incidents.

Since Jan. 1, the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center has tracked 242 incidents exposing more than 11.9 million records nationwide. A number of these incidents involve stolen credit card information.

If you receive a notice in the mail that your information has been breached, you might not have to automatically start closing accounts, switching banks and moving to the other side of the world.

Instead, follow these steps:

Take a breath. Don’t act immediately. Take some time to read, and reread, the notice carefully to learn what information might have been exposed and how.

Phone first. Call the bank or credit card issuer associated with the breached information to ask what they recommend. Some card issuers will demand the card be shut down and a new one issued. Others might opt for a watch-and-wait policy.

Start a file. File the notice in a safe place in case you ever need to prove that your data was compromised.

Get a monitor. If the breach comes with the offer of a year of free credit monitoring, take it. You might even be able to contact the financial institution or company whose information was breached to see if they’ll foot some -- or all -- of the bill of credit monitoring.

Stay alert. Check the account, as well as all your other bank and credit accounts daily (or at the very least a few times a week) to look for suspicious activity. And if you do spot something, notify the card issuer or your bank immediately.

Bug the bureaus. It typically takes 30 to 45 days for activity to show up on your credit report. So circle your calendar one month from the date of the notice to request a free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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