It’s become clear how common data breaches are these days. Better Bureau Business has tips for consumers to protect personal information and reduce identity theft risks.
This is important whether you’re a customer of the affected companies or not.
What Is a Data Breach?
Companies have a large amount of their customers’ personal information stored in digital spaces. Thieves want access to that information. They may target companies with malware or they may exploit weaknesses in digital security measures. Once they steal the information, these bad actors sell it on the dark web or use it in their own fraud schemes.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another’s identity for financial gain to commit crimes or for other unlawful purposes. Thieves target unsecured documents to find any information they can including names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, mothers’ maiden names, Social Security numbers (SSN), credit card numbers, bank account numbers and passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs).
What Is the Risk To Consumers?
No two data breaches are the same, and each incident can expose unique information. Consumers affected by a breach may be at increased risk for identity theft. Thieves may use stolen information to fraudulently apply for credit, unemployment benefits and more. In some cases, consumers’ financial accounts may be accessible to thieves.
Companies collect more customer data than ever before. They save payment methods, passwords, addresses and other information. This allows people to save time and ensure bills are paid on time and budget effectively. However, it also increases the risk of identity theft. Consumers must take extra care to protect their personally identifiable information.
Take These Steps to Protect Against Identity Theft:
- Don’t overshare online. Avoid posting personal information on social media. It’s not just about your social security number; online quizzes and games may put you at risk! Things like your first pet’s name or the town you were born in can be used to hack your accounts.
- Check your credit report and financial statements often. Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity and notify account providers as quickly as possible.
- Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Protect your accounts with complex and unique passwords.
- Implement two-factor authentication on accounts and devices. This adds another layer of security to your logins. Two-factor authentication sends a code to your phone or email to check the account owner is the one logging in.
- Shred statements and applications that you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms and billing statements from utilities and phone service providers.
- Cut up expired credit and debit cards. Make sure you cut through the numbers.
- Protect your Social Security number, all account numbers and passwords. Don’t carry these numbers in your wallet. Give out personal identifiers only when you know who you are giving it to and why the information is needed. Beware of unsolicited emails and phone calls if someone asks for these numbers.
- Secure personal documents at home. If you have roommates, employ outside help or have contractors in your home, make sure your personal documents are in a safe place and not lying out in plain sight.
- Minimize personal information printed on checks. You don’t need to include your Social Security number, driver’s license or phone number.
- Monitor bank and credit cards for unauthorized transactions. Criminals may start with small transactions to see if you notice.
- Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors.
- Create strong passwords. Avoid using your birth date, child’s name or birth date, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Never use a public computer.
- Never use email to communicate sensitive personal information. Don’t respond to emails asking you to verify your personal information and identifiers. Neither your bank, credit card company, online payment system nor the IRS will call or email asking you for confidential information.
Protecting yourself online is critical, but hard copies of private documents can also be stolen. So, it’s important to safely dispose of your private papers. Check with your local BBB to learn more about Shred Day Events.
Even the most careful consumers can fall victim to a data breach. Learn what to do after a breach and how to tell if your information was stolen.
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.