Anyone who shops, plays games or socializes on the internet is a potential victim. Personal information, like your home address or credit card number, may be stored online. Hackers want it, and sometimes they get it. How do you protect yourself?

You may be offered some help.

That's Not Entertainment: The Sony Breach

In May 2011, Sony told millions of its customers that hackers had stolen their personal information. The information was in the accounts of customers using Sony's popular online entertainment services for playing games or watching movies.

The hackers got information such as customer:

  • Names
  • Street and email addresses
  • Birthdates
  • Genders
  • Phone numbers
  • Login name

On top of that, the hackers got credit and debit card information from over 20,000 customers, although none of them in the US, including:

  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card numbers and expiration dates

Armed for Havoc

Armed with information like this, the hackers have the potential to wreck lives. Credit cards and loans in your name could be opened, for example. You could be on the hook for thousands of dollars of debt that isn't yours. Your credit rating may be damaged to the point where you won't be able to get a loan or credit when you really need it.

Identity theft is serious.

Companies Try to Help

When companies and web sites have a security breach like the one at Sony, they often offer free anti-identity theft services and protection. That's exactly what Sony did. It offered those who were victimized 12 months of services, including:

Cyber Monitoring

Your personal information is continuously searched for on the internet. This includes seraches on known criminal web sites and law enforcement data. You're alerted immediately if your information is being used by someone else, and given advice on what to do to protect yourself.

You're also given a monthly identity status report.

Access to Professionals

You're given priority access to licensed private investigators and identity restoration specialists if you get an alert or think you've been a victim of identity theft or fraud. An investigator will look into the matter. If necessary, an identity restoration specialist will contact creditors and others, and take necessary steps to restore your identity.

Insurance Coverage

You're given a $1 million identity theft insurance policy to cover identity restoration costs, legal defense expenses and lost wages you may have within 12 months after your identity was stolen.

Secure Your Identity Immediately

Take advantage of any free services offered by the company responsible for losing your personal information. They're free, give you protection and there's really no downside.

The offered services aren't always perfect or foolproof, though. Take some additional steps if you're the victim of a data security breech:

  • Look into a credit monitoring program. Although Sony didn't offer this protection, many companies offer it for free when customer information is stolen
  • Put a security or credit freeze and fraud alert on your credit reports. These make it hard for thieves to use your credit report to open new lines of credit
  • Check your credit reports regularly. You can get a report for free once per year
  • Consider paying for the services after the free period ends. Thieves read the papers, too, and know that after 1 year, your ID may be easier to steal

Go ahead, shop and play online to your heart's content. Just be careful to protect your personal information, before and after a security breach.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is a company legally obligated to offer free identity theft protection after a security breech?
  • Can I sue a company for losing my personal information? What if I didn't accept its offer for free identity theft services?
  • Are identity theft protection services I pay for tax deductible?

Tagged as: Consumer Law, Consumer Banking, hacker attacks, secure your ID, identity theft lawyer