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Even if you haven't received notice of a data breach lately, your personal data may still be at risk. Millions of consumers’ sensitive information, such as login credentials, bank account info and Social Security numbers, is floating around the internet, just waiting to be exploited.
So it's smart to act as if your information has been compromised and take steps to protect yourself from .
Personal information includes your Social Security number, birthdate and mother’s maiden name. Among these, your Social Security number is the most sensitive, because you can’t change it and it’s often used to verify your identity.
“If you look at the companies that have been compromised, the chances are really good that your personal information is out there,” says Gary Davis, who served as the “chief consumer security evangelist” at the cybersecurity company McAfee. An example is the 2017 , in which more than 147 million U.S. consumers had their credit profiles and Social Security numbers exposed. It's not a recent breach but promises to have lasting effects for many consumers.
With access to your personal information, scammers could apply for new lines of credit in your name, potentially saddling you with debt, ruining your credit or both. With your Social Security number, a criminal could also .
Take three important steps to limit the exposure of your personal info and protect yourself if some data is already out there.
For an added sense of security, you might want to consider credit monitoring and identity theft protection services, which can alert you to attempts to use your personal information. But they charge a fee and can’t prevent ID theft, just alert you after the fact.
This refers to things like your email, bank account or social media login credentials. Some of your digital information may have been exposed if you use Facebook, Yahoo or Capital One, to name just a few high-profile breaches. In addition, the information you share on social media can leave you vulnerable to identity theft.
Protecting your digital information helps thwart many forms of identity theft. If your Facebook account is accessed by hackers, for example, they could tap your network and create scams targeting your friends and family. Criminals with your bank login credentials could siphon money from your account or run up charges on a credit card.
Some fairly simple measures can help protect your digital information.
In the long term, you can mitigate the future risk of privacy violations by being conservative with the services you use. If a company is a repeat offender, consider dropping the platform.
“Don’t reward companies for bad behavior,” Davis says. “If you hear about companies that aren’t treating our data and your privacy as strongly as they should, don’t use them anymore. Show them with your feet that you care about these things.”