Nearly a quarter of a million North Carolina consumers have been affected by a recent data breach by the Bank of New York Mellon. The breach could subject 248,000 North Carolinians to potential identity theft.

"During these uncertain times, it's especially important that people know if their personal information has been lost or stolen," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said. "Our state laws require that businesses and government let you know if you're the victim of a security breach so you can act quickly to protect yourself from identity theft."

A security breach happens when data or records containing personal information such as Social Security Numbers or bank account numbers are lost, stolen or displayed. The largest breach reported recently involves Bank of New York Mellon, a stock transfer company also known as BNY Mellon. The company reported this month that data from 248,000 North Carolinians was lost including their names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, and possibly their bank account information.

In May, BNY Mellon reported that it lost backup tapes containing personal information about 4 million consumers nationwide including 74,000 in North Carolina. The company has since discovered that the breach actually affected 12 million consumers.

Under North Carolina law, state and local government as well as businesses must notify consumers if a security breach may have compromised their personal information. They must also report breaches to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. A total of 260 breaches that involved information about 1.5 million North Carolina consumers have been reported since the laws took effect in 2005 and 2006.

BNY Mellon is currently notifying North Carolinians whose information was lost and offering them two free years of credit monitoring. Some consumers who are contacted may not be familiar with the company, which is hired by public companies as a stock transfer agent or to handle corporate transactions.