You are sitting at home one evening when you receive a phone call from your bank. The person on the line tells you that someone has changed the contact information for your account.
At first, you think this is some sort of scam. You assume it’s just some criminal trying to get information out of you. Nice try.
Unfortunately, when a man named Phil McKenna received such a call, he quickly realized it was very real indeed…
A thief with knowledge of Phil’s Social Security number, address, birth date and mother’s maiden name succeeded in changing the contact information associated with his accounts.
The bank representative told Phil he was dealing with a professional criminal and should not only assume all his personal information was stolen but that his accounts were compromised.
It’s difficult to say exactly how Phil’s information was stolen. Most likely, it was hacked from a database that would have all of these personal details — such as one at a credit bureau.
And Phil isn’t the only one dealing with the fallout from a data breach…
Identity theft hit an all-time high in 2017. An estimated 16.7 million Americans fell victim to thieves who stole over $16 billion, mostly by draining bank accounts and shopping online with stolen credit card numbers.
Plus — for the first time ever last year — more Social Security numbers were stolen than credit card numbers.
The problem is the nature of fraud committed by thieves has changed drastically over the past few years. In this day and age it’s simple to dig up a few details on someone from social media accounts and public records. And with that little bit of information, a thief can start putting together more material about you.
For example, with some knowledge of how Social Security numbers are assigned and basic demographic information about a person such as birth date and location of birth, it’s easy to guess the first few digits of a Social Security number.
To figure out the rest of the numbers, sophisticated thieves will execute a brute force attack. This is when a computer tries thousands of combinations until it finds one that works.
Massive data breaches are not only going to continue but will increase in 2018. This has caused many consumers to be wary of companies that collect their information.
According to a poll last year, 53% of people believe the only reason companies notify customers of a data breach is to protect the interests of the company — not the consumer.
The bottom line is it’s up to you to keep your information private and out of the hands of thieves. To help you do this, here are four simple tips to minimize the risk of your information being stolen:
- Put a freeze on your credit. In 2017, new account fraud increased by 70%. This means criminals were opening new credit accounts in someone else’s name using their personal information. Contact the three main credit reporting bureaus to put a freeze on your credit report. This will prevent anyone except you from pulling your credit score unless you call to lift the freeze (using a unique PIN that only you should know).
- Use two-factor authentication. Use this option on every online account that allows you to do so. The way it works is when you try to log in to an account, you will receive a text or call to your phone that provides a password you must enter on your computer to finish the login process.
- Secure mobile devices. Hackers like to target smartphones and tablets and exploit their weaknesses for securing information. With that in mind, make sure you are doing everything possible to secure your mobile devices. This includes basic precautions such as using a password to unlock the device. In addition, always use a VPN (virtual private network) on your phone, especially when logging into online accounts.
- Give misinformation. If you have social media accounts, do not list your real birthday or any other identifying information (such as where you were born or went to college) that could be used to hack accounts. I just had my fake birthday on Facebook the other day and got many well wishes from people who really don’t know me.
The fact is 2018 will probably be a record-breaking year when it comes to data breaches and hackers stealing personal information. We simply can’t depend on companies to protect our data. This is why you need to do everything in your power to keep your information private.