Just this month, 143 million people were affected by the Equifax security breach. That is almost half the amount of people living in the United States. This was just one of the 918 breaches that have already occurred this year, affecting almost 2 BILLION data records. The overall number of data breaches occurring each year is increasing at an alarming rate. Many industry professionals are now even considering large cyber attacks to be acts of terrorism.
Why is this happening and what can be done to stop it?
Everyday more and more data is being stored electronically. This includes personal information and business information. We are living in a digital age, and it has become common activity to enter your personal information including your social security number online.
It's up to you to be proactive and take steps to protect yourself. Thieves may gain access to your information from a hack, but if you take steps to protect and monitor all of your accounts closely, you can minimize the damage that can be done.
1. Check your credit reports for suspicious activity:
There are free websites to check your own credit report periodically like Credit Karma and FreeCreditReport.com. If you monitor your credit reports regularly, you are much more likely to notice changes quickly so you can take action.
2. Freeze your credit reports temporarily to protect against fraud:
The basic benefit of putting a lock on your credit is that if a fraudster attempts to take out a loan or get credit using your personal information, the lender will be unable to check your credit score or history and generally won't approve the application. (source: CNBC)
3. Set a fraud alert on your account:The 3 main credit agencies allow you to set a fraud alert on your account. This will notify you of any suspicious activity. However, these alerts expire after 90 days, so setting a reminder to renew the alerts is also a good idea.
4. Continue monitoring through tax season:
Thieves can use your personal information to file fraudulent tax returns, and receive fraudulent refund checks.
The Bottom Line: Everyone is at risk, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself!