Money·4 min read

Data Breaches, Scams, and Your Wallet: 6 Things to Do If Your Info's Exposed

A woman sitting at her computer
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
February 3, 2022

Hide your passwords. Hide your pins. Scammers and hackers are all around us. In 2021, there was a record number of data breaches before the year was even over. And the Federal Trade Commission reported that a quarter of all financial losses from fraud last year started on social media platforms. If hackers get access to your financial or personal data – think: account passwords, your birthday, your phone number, etc. – it’s potentially bad for your bank account. And it can take a while to unwind the damage.

If you think your info has been compromised, here’s how to protect yourself.

Do you think your SSN was exposed? 

  • Send up a red flag. Ask one of the credit bureaus (hint: Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax) to put a fraud alert on your account. The one you call will tell the others. And the alert will tell all future lenders that you’re on the lookout for potential identity fraud. So they should be extra careful before approving new loans or credit cards in your name. Plus, setting up an alert gives you free access to your credit report. If you see something, say something.

  • Tell important gov agencies. Report any Social Security-related fraud or scams to the Office of the Inspector General. Also give the IRS a head’s up. And let the Federal Trade Commission know via Next, file a police report. Some creditors or banks might ask for one. And if you have any leads, it could help authorities catch the identity thieves. 

Have you used the same password since middle school? 

  • Retire ‘yourpetsname123’ as your go-to. It had to happen sometime. While you’re at it, switch up the answers to any site security questions. Because honesty can be a bad policy here. Things like your birthday, mom’s maiden name or an old street address can be Googled or found on social media. Pro tip: to really throw hackers off, use wrong, hard-to-guess answers (the kind with random characters and numbers). Just don’t forget them yourself.

  • Turn on multi-factor authentication. Aka the setting that requires an extra verification code to log in. So even if a scammer knows your password, they won’t be able to get past the extra hurdle into your account. 

Are you positive you didn’t spend hundreds of dollars online shopping? 

  • Keep a close eye on your bank statements. And jump on any sketchy activity. Banks have protections in place to refund fraudulent charges, if you tell them ASAP.

  • Be wary of those ads. And make sure you’re buying from the company you think you’re buying from. In 2021, a nearly half of people who lost money on social media reported purchasing things from phony ads. A big red flag? They ask for cryptocurrency as payment, which doesn’t have the fraud protections your credit card has.

  • Request replacements. Play it safe by asking your bank for a fresh new card and account number sooner rather than later. And make sure you change your account pins and passwords periodically to help keep your money and personal info safe. 


If you think you’ve been affected by a data breach or scam, act fast. A little legwork now can help you avoid bigger financial headaches later. And don’t forget that hackers may play the long game. Just because you don’t see any fraudulent activity right away doesn’t mean you won’t ever. Make a habit of scanning your accounts for at least a few months following a breach.

Updated Feb. 2 to include the most recent hacks and scam trends. 

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