In September 2017, America learned about the massive data breach at the credit reporting agency Equifax that affected approximately 148 million consumers – one of the largest breaches ever. Identity thieves suddenly acquired a new batch of Social Security numbers, names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information.
Consumers were advised to take steps immediately to protect themselves against identity theft. Did they heed that advice? A new survey from CompareCards.com shows that the vast majority of Americans (91%) took at least one protective step against identity theft while the average American had taken at least three steps.
The most cited protective steps were reviewing online bank and credit card statements more often (65%), checking credit scores (51%), and setting up alerts to notify users when charges were made to their accounts (50%).
Consumers understand the importance of credit reports. Thirty-seven percent of respondents reviewed their credit reports over the last year, and 29% activated alerts to notify them when changes were made to their credit report. If you would like to monitor your credit to prevent identity theft and see your credit reports and scores, join MoneyTips.
Password protection improved as well. Approximately 30% of respondents changed the passwords on the websites of their bank and credit card issuer, while 24% changed their ATM card PIN number.
Consumers are clearly paying more attention to their accounts, as they should. According to the survey, four in ten respondents found fraudulent charges in their accounts over the past year. That's probably why 81% of consumers said they've become more diligent about looking for signs of identity theft – and a further 13% of consumers said they were already diligent. Only 6% of respondents showed no concern about identity theft.
Unfortunately, the people who can least afford fraudulent charges are the least likely to check for them. The survey found that 13% of respondents with annual incomes below $25,000 never check credit card or bank statements – over three times the percentage of any other income group.
Smaller percentages took stronger protective measures. Only 12% of consumers locked an account over the previous year, only 11% subscribed to a credit monitoring service, and only 8% froze their credit. However, freezes and locks may be more popular than these percentages suggest. The survey also found that 30% of respondents froze or locked their account at least once, and 50% of those who did so still have the freeze or lock in place today.
Credit freezes may increase over the upcoming year, as they have been free since September 21, after the survey was completed. We may reach a tipping point where over half of Americans utilize a credit lock or freeze – especially given that 51% of those who didn't freeze or lock their credit either didn't know they could or didn't know how to do it.
The Equifax breach was just one of many avenues for your personal information to reach identity thieves – and it won't be the last. Over half (52%) of survey respondents aren't as bothered by new data breaches because they assume their personal information is already available – which may also explain the increase in protective actions.
How many of these protective steps have you taken? You don't have to take them all, but make sure you've given yourself the best chance possible to avoid identity theft losses. If your personal information is already out there, you must make it difficult for thieves to use it to their advantage. Stay diligent with proactive steps and monitor your accounts regularly to prevent fraud. With 148 million options to choose from in the Equifax breach alone, thieves are likely to move on and find an easier target for their crimes.
Protect your credit – protect your identity – protect yourself with a free MoneyTips trial.