In some ways, last year wasn’t a good one for personal security, especially for the residents of the state of New York. In 2013, more than 900 different businesses experience data breaches or hacking events, which affected more than seven million people in that state alone. With numbers like this, it can be easy to throw up your hands and think, “There’s nothing we can do to stop this.”
But that’s not the case. One recent report shows that only forty percent of the data breaches were caused by hackers looking for personal information in order to steal identities. In the case of the average citizen, no, there’s not much you can do to prevent a hacker from sidestepping the security of a major corporation like Target, for example. While people might become more selective about handing over their personal information to companies who have poor track records with hacking, it would be unfair to say that hackers aren’t finding new ways to break into computer systems all the time.
More and more companies are taking action to prevent hacking, but one troublesome trend is the increase in insurance policies that cover the cost of cleanup. These policies protect the company from the costs of hiring experts to figure out how the breach happened, the costs of informing affected customers, and the costs of offering those victims credit monitoring services. While this insurance makes it possible for companies to help resolve as much of the problem as possible, it is unfortunate that this is an “after the fact” solution. It would be far better for consumers if companies took some of that expense and put it towards prevention.
One way that consumers can be more proactive is to guard the amount of information they share with companies and organizations. By not oversharing your personal information with companies who don’t actually need all of the data they request, you can minimize some of the damage if a hacking event takes place.
Of course, not all of these events involved hackers breaking into a company’s computer system. Other types of large-scale breaches have involved organized criminals who conspired to steal sensitive data from their workplaces, like the DMV or a hospital records department. Still other data thefts occur accidentally, such as several recent cases in which employees have taken laptops home from work and then had those laptops lost or stolen. Again, in those types of situations, it’s hard for the consumers to take action that would have prevented the loss of their information.
This is where diligence comes in on the part of the victims. Don’t wait for a company or organization to send you a letter informing you that your data has been compromised, as those types of mass mailings can take weeks or even months after a breach has happened. Stay on top of your credit report by following up with the three reporting agencies in an on-going way; consumers are entitled to one free report each year from each agency, so by staggering your requests four months apart, you can easily see a fresh look at your report. Be sure to read your Social Security statement carefully for any sign that someone is using your identity for employment, as this can indicate that your tax return will be filed fraudulently, too. As always, carefully look over any other financial statements that come each month, then file or shred them before disposing of them.
It can easily feel like fighting identity theft is a losing battle, one that cost the US more than one billion dollars last year, but you can do a lot to protect yourself from the loss of your information, as well as take swift action once a breach takes place. Knowing what to do to prevent a breach and how to recover from one will go a long way towards arming you to protect your identity.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.