It seems like every week we hear about a security breach, with one more massive than the next. And no company, business or industry is 100% protected from these breaches. The most recent large-scale security breach potentially exposed the personal data of about 500 million Marriott guests. The largest breach in history hit Yahoo, with an astounding 3 billion records stolen.
Safe to say that no one is immune and at some point or another, most of us have had our information compromised in some way. Just last month I got a message from my credit card company asking if I had recently spent $715 with a Russian telecommunications company (“No m’am, I had not.”). The potential of a cyber criminal stealing our information is a significant source of stress for many Americans. In fact, more people believe that having their identity stolen would be worse than having their home broken into (46% vs. 27%). So we know it’s a problem, we worry about it…yet we still are not protecting our data. A recent study conducted by CreditCards.com found that more than 9 in 10 (92%) U.S. adults have been guilty of at least one risky data security behavior in the past year.
Specific risky behaviors include:
- More than 8 in 10 (82%) have reused online passwords, including 61% who use the same password at least half of the time and 22% who always do.
- Using a public Wi-Fi network (48%)
- Saving passwords (45%) and payment info (35%) online
- Carrying a Social Security card in a purse or wallet (33%)
These simple everyday behaviors that we engage in can lead to hackers getting valuable information like birthday, social security numbers and bank account information. What cyber criminals do with this information varies. While an obvious consequence is to use your credit card for their own personal spending spree (or, ahem, at a Russian Telecommunications company), CreditCards.com analyst Ted Rossman says that’s not the issue that worries him the most. “We’ve probably all had the instance where there was an unauthorized credit card transaction. Usually we can simply report it, it gets reversed and we get a new card. What I am worried about is unauthorized accounts. If someone opens credit in your name, runs up a big bill or takes out a loan; those can be hard to unwind.”
Rossman says the best way to prevent a criminal from opening a new account in your name is by placing a credit freeze on your account. If at some point you need to take out a loan or open a credit card, you can lift the freeze simply online or over the phone. He also recommends freezing your children’s credit, stating an estimated million child identity theft cases in the US last year. While prevention is key when it comes to identity theft, he also recommends checking your credit report every four months to make sure there is no unauthorized activity.
On the bright side, according to the study Americans are doing better when it comes to checking their credit scores and reports: 83% and 81%, respectively, have done so. But we still have some work to do. 60% haven’t checked their credit report within the past six months, including nearly 20% who have never done so. Those with lower income and education levels are less likely to have checked up on their credit. For more tools on how to protect yourself, or if you have experienced identity theft, visit the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov website.