Capital One breach exposed bank data for the most financially vulnerable customers


And it could get worse: The Social Security numbers of Capital One secured card holders may also have been exposed in the breach, and identity theft can destroy a credit score.

Criminals need only a Social Security number and a few other key bits of personal information to cause serious damage. They can rack up medical bills under someone else’s name, open new credit card accounts and never pay the bills, or even take out a second mortgage on a victim’s home.

Setting the record straight after an identity theft can “become almost a full-time task for an extended period of time,” Levin said.

Harzog, the credit card expert, said it’s particularly important for secured credit card customers to take Capital One up on its offer to give free credit monitoring and identity protection. Experts also recommend affected people keep a close eye on their credit reports for any unexplained activity, watch their bank statements for any unfamiliar expenses, and even freeze their credit to stave off fraudsters.

    And, Levin warned, if it seems like a fraudster would be less likely to impersonate someone with a bad credit score — think again.