It doesn’t really matter how someone compromises your personal data.
You may lose your data in a headline-making Equifax-style data breach or you may find that someone has exposed your email password.
The fact remains the same:
It is always a nightmare when someone hacks your stuff.
Of course, knowing more about what one should expect when a breach does take place and the steps that one needs to make in order to fix everything is great.
But what is even better is knowing more about how to keep hackers off your machine and your data in the first place.
You probably do not need us to give you any more proof that the government most likely knows pretty much everything that it wants to know about anyone and everyone.
And this is not just a problem within the United States of America.
Other governments collect information on their citizens as well.
While governments certainly have the right to know stuff about the people living in the region that they control, they should not overstep the mark.
And we know for a fact that governments do overstep the mark.
If you ever forget your password for your primary email, all you have to do is to ask the FSB.
Of course, everyone knows that security agencies do not have any interest in making use of user data to launch simple and/or criminal cyber attacks.
On the other hand, if a hacking team belonging to a crime ring somehow gets its hands on your data then you should know for sure that the hacking team would do everything in its power to monetize your personal information.
These hacking teams, they do not really know the meaning of unauthorized access.
That is something they do on a regular basis and they do so as thoroughly as is technically possible.
Most of the time, hacking teams want to do everything they can do with your data as quickly as possible before you can know anything about it.
One prime example is that of the Equifax hack and how information about it reached the public at large.
What we mean to say is that regardless of the fact if you read news about Equifax hack, there was absolutely nothing that you could do about it after you read about it.
If you get hacked, you get hacked.
But is it the end of the story?
How can you know if you have been hacked?
Now, the thing you need to understand here is that whenever a major data breach or hack occurs, all the reputable news outlets pretty much go wild covering it since that is their livelihood.
So you do not really need to worry about the biggest of data breaches or hacks if you follow news about cybersecurity regular.
You have the option of going to the official website of whatever service you are concerned about and then look at resources there to know if any hack affected you.
However, it never hurts to just assume that you were hurt if you find out that hackers did breach the service that you use on a regular basis.
Of course, within all this doom and gloom, there is an upside.
And that upside is, you are not alone.
There are probably millions upon millions of online users who have had their data breached and compromised.
It is another fact that having a million other users with compromised data means that it is entirely possible that the hacker never gets around to actually studying your online details and then messing with them.
The other thing you should note here is that you should never bank on your antivirus to do the job at all times.
Antivirus products do provide users with good protection but if you do not exercise effective habits while surfing the world of the internet, you will always get into trouble.
Moreover, Antivirus products still lack competence when it comes to dealing with security breaches that happen on a server that is remote.
We have talked about all the things that you should be able to notice whenever there is a hack.
But did you know that there are other types of exposures which are very difficult to spot?
When it comes to hackers compromising your data by stealing your credit card details, you may be able to spot an unexpected item on your credit or debit card bill.
That is why we suggest that users should always give their credit card bills a good read.
Moreover, you need to make sure that you read each and every given line on your credit card bill.
Do not make the mistake of leaving out the small ones.
Credit card hackers know that most people would not even think about checking the smaller purchases.
Hence, they charge your credit card with smaller purchases trusting that you will simply not catch a small purchase that you did not make on your credit card bill.
Also, always make sure that the credit or debit card is working as it is supposed to before you make a big enough purchase.
There are lots of personal finance online services available now.
The one we that comes in our mind at first thought is mint.com.
You can use this service to keep a close enough eye on each and every one of your credit card transactions.
And it presents you with all the information in a single place.
Now, the other thing we want to mention here is that if you are lucky enough, you may find that your bank would move automatically to detect and stop fraudulent activity.
That is why you will see some of your friends complaining about their credit and debit cards declining a given charge.
Once a bank has ensured that someone has compromised your debit or credit card, they would inform you and then issue you a brand new card.
Of course, it is always a pain to re-configure all of your automatic payments since you will have to change settings and provide each automatic payment service a new number.
However, we feel that such a pain is well worth the effort knowing that it could stop a hacker buying a vacation to the Caribbean with your credit card.
Modern scammers also have the ability to make use of a given email account to launch and broadcast spam.
Not only that, but they can also make use of the compromised email address to launch targeted email scam campaigns in order to rob your contacts.
In such cases, the very first clue that you should take into account is your friends calling you on your phone number and asking you whether or not you are truly stuck in Barcelona at an airport with zero cash.
Of course, some of your contacts may leave you irate messages because ‘you’ spammed them.
That’s not all.
Any given identity thief worth his/her salt can make use of your private and personal information to create and open credit card accounts.
You may have a multiple number of accounts that you know nothing about if someone has managed to get a hold of your private information.
In fact, you may only know about them when you find out that a merchant has slammed the door on you and has blocked you from making any new requests to open up another line of credit for your financial needs.
With that said, it is true that a lot of people recommended online consumers to make use of Equifax to request a free report in the past.
There were websites like annualcreditreport.com that allowed users to request such reports from the likes of TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
Back then, people recommended doing that at least once a year.
Some also considered the practice of requesting one report every four months.
However, because of the recent data breaches, there is no way for us to recommend Equifax to anyone and for anything.
There is no way to know or confirm if and when Equifax is going to pay anyone for its remarkable showing of negligence.
We can only have a positive attitude towards this fiasco and hope that the other top services such as TransUnion and Experian would learn something from Equifax and double down on their security systems and tighten the belt on who gets access to their data.
Fast forward to this year, and our research shows that the best service for your financial needs is Credit Karma.
It has a free version so you do not have to worry about it breaking your bank as soon as you use it.
More importantly though, it has the ability to automatically start work on pulling all of your credit from Equifax and TransUnion as regularly as once every week.
That should allow you enough of a window into your finances to see exactly your credit or debit card is being used for.
The other thing you should remember here is that all of these are pretty much soft pulls.
In other words, they do not affect the user’s credit in any way.
Hard pulls do affect your credit when your credit card company forces you to go ahead and apply for extra credit.
The market has evolved to a point where there are many other credit-monitoring online services which have no association with the three biggest ones in the industry.
Our research shows that both Dashlane and LastPass offer this feature where users can monitor their finances.
The feature comes as a perk than a core functionality.
To take an example, both these password managers can check if any of your credit card numbers have managed to show up on that nasty thing called Dark Web.
Of course, if you want Dashlane and LastPass to check for your information then you will have to provide them with your credit card number or debit card number.
However, that should not be a problem for you since it is likely that you are already trusting these password managers with your other passwords.
And they do keep them safe, to be honest.
So what is next then?
The easiest hack that you will ever have to weather is the one that compromises your credit card information.
Of course, there is no responsibility on your part for all the fraudulent charges.
Additionally, once your bank has finally issued you a brand new card, the vast portion of the given problem is solved.
Our research shows that it is a lot tougher for people when they want to regain full control of an email account that someone has managed to hack.
Your first step should be to get in touch with the email service provider and then try and prove that you really are the genuine and true owner of the account.
Now, it is also entirely possible that the hacker who has compromised your account, changes your password.
And if that is the case, then there is no way for you to contact your email service provider with your regular email addresses.
That is one of the reasons why we believe it is very important for online consumers to have more than just a single primary email address.
We also think that modern online consumers should make each of their email address as an alternate contact for one of their email accounts.
Perhaps this is a good time to ask you:
Did you actually make use of your primary email address as a stand-in text for your user name on some other service or website?
If you did, you made a mistake.
But don’t feel bad since it is a fairly common practice among online users who do not know how advanced some hackers truly have become.
If, along with using the same username as your email address, you have also made use of the exact same password, then that account is pretty much compromised too.
Of course, if you did not make use of the same password, you are still in a spot of bother.
Why do we say that?
We say that because if you really think about it, if you ever come across a problem where you have forgotten a given website’s password, what is the first step you take?
That is right.
You perform a click on the link that says password reset.
Once you do that, the service usually sends you a password reset link directly to the email address that you have registered with the service.
Any hacker who considers himself/herself smart would have no problem in taking control of the compromised email account very quickly.
Not only that, the hacker will probably not waste any time before he/she seeks to compromise all of your other connected accounts as well.
Say goodbye to your shopping accounts, social media accounts, accounts connected with the hacked account and perhaps even your banking account.
Now, once you have managed to recover your email account from a potential complete takeover, what you absolutely have to do as the first business of the day is to visit each given website that you have associated with the previously-compromised-but-now-your email address.
Once there you need to change the related password.
Again, if you make use of a password manager in such a scenario you should have no problems in doing that with speed and efficiency.
How to get help when you become a victim of identity theft
The worst nightmare that any online user can go through is when the user becomes a victim of a full-on identity theft.
Our research shows that sometimes it can take the victim to spend upwards of thousands of dollars over the course of weeks and months in order to try and get their online accounts and identities back and put their online lives back together firmly under their own control.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does offer some pretty useful advice to people who have become victims.
Click here to access the site and know about all the details you should give attention to when you want to proceed to recovering your online identity.
Now, among many other things, the Federal Trade Commission website suggests users that they should immediately order their credit reports.
The website starts off with that step because it wants the victim to know what exactly has happened.
Moreover, the site also suggests that the victim should make an official and formal identity-theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.
We do not want to mention everything here but we do want to let you know that the site specifies pretty much anything and everything that you need to know and do.
It has step by step guides on how to recover from an identity theft situation so make sure you give that one a good read as well.
The FTC site comes with checklists for victims so that they have an easier time in making sure that they do not miss any important task.
Along with that, the site provides you with sample forms and letters.
We are very confident that you simply cannot go wrong by relying on the information that is available on the FTC website.
How to make sure you never get hacked again?
So what steps can you take to make sure no one is able to hack you again?
Well, the first and the easiest thing you can do is sign up for a VPN service in order to encrypt your data and hide your IP address.
Apart from that, you will have to make some effort.
The thing is, after the now infamous Equifax-hack, plenty of sites have started to recommend that users should freeze their credit.
Not only that, they have also suggested that users should set up a brand new fraud alert.
Setting up a fraud alert will require you to go through some extra steps regarding verification in order to open up a new account.
There are lots of other such extra steps that you will have to take for each of your services which we won’t mention here.
However, what we suggest is that before you go ahead and make such significant modifications to your online credit life, stop.
And then think a little bit.
Consider very carefully if you are ready to make such verification steps permanent.
While doing that, keep in mind that the next huge data breach is almost guaranteed and probably just waiting to happen.
In fact, a new data breach may have already taken place but may not have generated any news in the mainstream media.
What you need to realize is that even in the case of Equifax, the data breach news did not come to the public attention months after the incident.
As for debit and credit cards, we do not think there is a whole lot of stuff you can do to make them safer.
All that you can really do is to make sure you shop only from reputable e-commerce sites.
Stop shopping at retailers that look shady.
Such suggestions hold true for both online and real-world outlets.
The majority of the brick-and-mortar shopping stores have facilities that accept those new credit cards that are chipped.
Of course, not every store has that facility.
But chipped cards are more secure than their regular cousins for the simple reason that they are able to properly secure all in-person transactions.
However, even chip cards cannot help you if you are engaging in an online transaction.
Also, know that mobile-based online payment services such as Android Pay and Apple Pay are pretty much exponentially more secure than the old and physical debit or credit cards.