A report released Monday by state Attorney General Kamala Harris revealed that 2.5 million Californians had their social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank accounts and other personal information exposed following 131 data breaches of companies, universities and government agencies. Some of the companies and organizations breached includes Petco Animal Supplies, State Farm Insurance, Kaiser Permanente, Pepperdine University, Stanford University Hospital, Bank of America Merchant Services, American Express Travel Related Services and its affiliates, among others.

According to the attorney general's report, the breaches date back to November of 2010, and more than half of people whose information was exposed — 1.4 million — could have been avoided had the data been encrypted. Approximately 45 percent of the breaches were results of failed security measures by information managers, and 55 percent involved outside users or hackers. The report also revealed that 56 percent of the hacked Californians had their social security number exposed.

If you fear that your personal information may be at risk there are some steps you can take to help detect identity theft before it gets too late. One of the essential steps that you can take includes monitoring your credit reports because it can help you catch the opening of fraudulent credit cards or accounts. Another more hand-on option is to sign up for an identity theft protection service. These services monitor your credit reports and alert you if a new account has been opened as well as scan the Internet black market for your personal information, such as your social security number and credit cards or bank accounts. This blog explains why these services can be valuable.

If you think you've fallen victim to identity theft you should follow the steps below to restore your identity and good name.

  1. Report the theft to the local police department and FTC: Filing a police report helps make local police aware of the crime as well as help police find a possible source of the crime. On top of filing a police report, you also need to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The agency uses the information you provide to look for any trends with identity theft, which can help lead to investigations and future prosecutions.
  2. Notify all three credit report bureaus: Alerting the credit bureaus makes them aware of the theft and lets them know to take extra steps to verify your identity. You have two routes that you can take to protect your credit. You can choose to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on their credit reports. A fraud alert allows companies to access your credit reports, however it also places an alert that advises creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity. A fraud alert is the more extreme option of the two because it completely locks down your credit. This means that no credit, including your current creditors, will have access to your credit reports. You get to decide which option will be the best choice for you. The numbers for each of the bureaus can be found here.
  3. Notify banks and creditors: The last step you'll need to do is notify your banks and creditors, meaning any company that has your personal information — such as your utilities, cable and Internet providers, libraries, insurance carriers. Although you already filed a police report and notified the credit bureaus, you still need to complete this step because it makes your banks and creditors aware that you are vulnerable because the reality is that once you've fallen victim to identity theft you are more likely to become a victim of identity theft again in the future.
  4. Follow-up with everything: This is an essential step because you want to make sure everything is completed, and following up will help you verify that all the necessary steps to restore your identity have actually been taken.

Visit our identity theft FAQs to learn more about identity theft protection in general or check out our identity theft compare chart to find out which identity theft protection service might suit your needs.

Credit Report Monitoring, Identity Theft Protection, News