Just about every transaction you make, whether it is with a credit card, posting on a social media site or collecting a paycheck, gets captured in cyberspace and stored in multiple databases operated by corporations, health care providers, government agencies and other organizations.
Your data is out there for identity thieves. It’s no wonder, then, that hackers are relentless in their attempts to break into these databases that store the information. When they succeed, and they do, the result is a “data breach.” Although you can’t prevent data breaches, you can minimize your personal risk. Here are five ways to minimize your risk:
1. Be careful how much data you provide. If you are asked to provide numbers such as your Social Security number, ask why. It may not be needed or required.
2. Do not store financial account information online for bill paying. But if you do, credit card companies offer better protection than most debit cards if the account is compromised.
3. Protect your medical records by reading every letter you receive from medical insurers and providers – including those that state “this is not a bill” – to ensure no one has stolen your identity and is receiving care under your name.
4. Monitor your accounts, including your Social Security earning report. Ask your bank or credit card companies to set up free email alerts to notify you about activity on your account, including change-of-address requests. If you’re offered a free monitoring service with your creditor, take advantage of the offer. Only about 20 percent of victims do.
5. Change your passwords frequently and order, for free, your credit report from each agency once every four months at annualcreditreport.com.
You can also keep tabs on recent breaches by going to sites like privacyrights.org/data-breach or idtheftcenter.org. Remember: Not all breaches are reported to victims.