Americans Still Not Taking Basic Steps Against ID Theft Such As Watching Their Social Security Number Two Years After Equifax Breach
Two years after the massive Equifax data breach came to light, millions of Americans still aren’t taking some of the basic steps needed to protect themselves from identity theft.
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A new report from CompareCards by Lending Tree shows that while 95% of Americans are taking some steps to detect and protect themselves from fraud, there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to protecting Social Security numbers and checking credit reports.
Equifax announced the massive data breach – which exposed key private data for more than 140 million Americans -- in September 2017. For the second straight year, with the breach’s anniversary approaching, CompareCards asked credit and debit cardholders about their feelings about breaches and identity theft as well as about the actions they’ve taken to detect and prevent identity theft.
There was certainly good news in the results.
- 95% of cardholders took at least one of the actions against identity theft. That’s a 4 percentage point increase from last year.
- 66% said they reviewed their online bank and credit card statements more this year than last (up from 65%).
- 57% checked their credit score at least once (up from 51%).
- 39% reviewed their credit report (up from 37%).
- 44% said they’re being much more vigilant about ID theft detection than they were a year ago (up from 41%).
Keep an eye on your credit report
Ultimately, however, there’s a lot of room for concern, especially as it relates to some of the basics of identity theft protection. For example, even though the percentage of those checking their credit report ticked up slightly, it is still woefully low. The truth is your credit report is perhaps the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal against fraud. That’s because if someone steals your vital information and opens up a credit card in your name, it’s likely that the only way you’ll find out about it is to see it on your credit report.
Luckily, it has never been easier to keep an eye on your credit report for free. You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three of the major credit bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Also, My LendingTree, available at CompareCards.com, lets you constantly track your TransUnion credit report and your VantageScore credit score as part of its free service.
Given all of that, there’s no excuse for not looking at your credit report at least once a year. Even if you haven’t applied for credit in many years, you should still take a look, just in case there are signs of fraud. The fact that just over a third of cardholders took the time to look at their report just means that we’re making bad guys’ jobs easier.
Protect your Social Security number
Nothing makes a fraudsters’ job easier than giving them a Social Security number. It’s the key to the kingdom when it comes to identity theft, and you should treat it like it is gold because that’s basically what it is for thieves. Trouble is, we’re not doing it.
About 4 in 10 cardholders said they provided their full Social Security number in an online form in just the past month. Yes, there plenty of legitimate reasons for providing your Social Security number online – for example, you have to do it to get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com – but given how many people have provided that information online in such a short period of time, it’s likely that at least some of them have done it when they should not have.
The best approach when handling your Social Security number is this: When in doubt, don’t give it out.
If someone claiming to be a bank or government organization calls you and asks you for the information, don’t provide it. Instead, hang up and call the bank or the organization yourself and ask about the call you just received.
If you get an email that appears to be from your bank, and it is asking you to click on a link and provide your login information or other sensitive pieces of data, don’t do it. It’s likely a scam.
Sadly, there are plenty of examples of these types of scams, so it’s important to be skeptical whenever your private information is involved. It’s important to educate the elderly and young adults about this as well because they are the folks who are most often targeted.
Don’t give up
The most important thing you can do, however, is simply understand that the battle against identity theft and fraud is a forever problem and remain vigilant.
It’s smart to build basic identity theft checks – reviewing your online statements, checking your credit report, etc. -- into your regular financial routine. Yes, we’re all busy and have to-do lists that are 100 miles long. However, we also have time to check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram 10 times a day. If you have the time to do that, you also have the time to keep a closer eye out for fraud. It’s easy. It doesn’t take very long. And it really matters.