If you’ve stayed at a Starwood Hotel in the last several years, there’s a chance your personal data–including your credit card number–has been compromised.
According to the latest reports from Marriott, the Starwood Hotel parent company, hackers have access more than 500 million customer records in the last four years.
So how do you know if you may have been compromised? And what steps should you take if you were? Read on to find out.
Which Hotels Are Affected?
In this particular hack, it’s important to know which hotel brands have been affected. The affected hotels were specifically part of the Starwood portfolio, which includes Sheraton, St. Regis, W, and Westin hotels. If you’ve stayed at one of these hotels, you may be at risk, even if you haven’t stayed recently.
This hack began all the way back in 2014, and it affected, as far as Marriott knows now, 500 million customers. Around 327 million customer records that included passport details, personal contact data, and email addresses were hacked. And an undisclosed number of credit card records were also accessed.
So far, Marriott is being sued in federal court in Maryland. The suit accuses the chain of negligence and unfair trade practices, though Marriott says that it alerted customers soon after it learned of the breach.
In short, this is the second-largest data breach of this kind in history, second only to one at Yahoo in 2013. And it’s nothing short of a public relations nightmare for Marriott. But it could also be a personal nightmare for you if your data was affected.
How Do You Know if You’ve Been Affected?
On its website, Marriott says that it has already begun alerting customers who may have been affected by the data breach. If your email address is in the affected Starwood registration system, you should receive an email in the near future, if you haven’t already.
Marriott has also set up a dedicated call center to answer guest questions about this incident. This is open seven days a week and is available for callers who speak several different languages. The call center is already experiencing loads of calls, though, so the wait time could be long.
Luckily, you don’t have to wait for Marriott to tell you if you’ve been part of this breach. You can be on the lookout for signs. And, really, in this day with more and more breaches of this sort making headlines, you should always be vigilant about your credit and personal information. Here’s what you should watch for if you suspect your data may be compromised:
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account or charges to your credit card.
- Not getting your bills or other mail that you expect.
- Debt collector calls about debts that aren’t yours.
- Accounts that you didn’t open showing up on your credit report.
- Your health plan rejects your medical claims because you’ve already reached your benefit limit, or your health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t actually have.
- The IRS says that you filed more than one tax return or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
If you notice any of these signs, you’ll want to take steps to protect your data and stop the identity thieves as soon as possible.
What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
The best resource for how to handle identity theft is the FTC or IdentityTheft.gov. This site will take you step by step through the process of filing an identity theft claim and getting the help you need to recover your data and protect yourself. In short, though, here are the steps you’ll need to take in the case of identity theft:
- Find the companies where the fraud occurred. This could be your bank or a company where the thief opened a fraudulent account.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit report. This means you can get a free credit report, which can help you find signs of other instances of identity theft. You only have to place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, and they’re required to contact the other two credit bureaus to have them flag your account. The fraud alert will stay on your credit report for a year, and can add additional steps to the process of applying for credit in an effort to stop identity thieves.
- Report the identity theft to the FTC. And also file a report with your local police department.
Depending on your situation, you may need to work to close accounts that were opened in your name, report fraudulent charges to your bank or credit card company, or have incorrect data scrubbed from your credit report. IdentityTheft.gov can help you walk through all of those steps as you need to.
How to Protect Yourself Moving Forward
If someone breaks into your home, chances are you’ll notice right away. Broken windows or door locks will give it away. But if someone steals your credit information, you may not know for a long time. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant about your credit, whether or not you’ve been part of a headline-making data breach.
One way to do this is to always comb through your bank and credit card statements. Some fraudsters may make smaller, more innocuous charges to see if you notice. So be on the lookout for any charges that you don’t recognize each and every month.
Then, make a habit of checking your credit on a regular basis. You can use free services like Credit.com to keep an eye on the accounts on your credit report. Many of these free services will also automatically alert you to new hard pulls on your credit report, which can alert you to potential fraud before it even happens.
Checking your credit doesn’t prevent credit fraud. It simply lets you take care of problems before they get out of hand.
If you would like to prevent credit fraud, you can consider freezing your credit. When you freeze your credit, you can make it very difficult for identity thieves to open credit in your name. When there’s a freeze on your credit, you’ll restrict creditors’ access to your report. That means most creditors won’t extend credit to someone applying using your information.
Placing a credit freeze is free if you’re concerned about identity theft. When you freeze your credit report, though, taking out credit in your own name can be difficult and time-consuming. So be sure that you understand the potential consequences before you take this step.
In short, data breaches like that one at Marriott can be scary for consumers. But they don’t have to ruin your life, even if your data is compromised. Paying attention and taking steps to protect your credit will help you protect your identity and your finances.Topics: Credit • Financial News • News • Personal Finance