What Americans Would Do To Protect Our Identities

Do You Know Enough About Hacks and the Credit Bureaus?

What Americans Would Do To Protect Our Identities
March 25, 2019

With the massive Equifax hack of 2017, the credit bureaus have shown that they can't protect your identity. It's up to you. How far would you go to protect it yourself? Would you stop using public WiFi? Stop using social media? Move to North Korea?

We asked your fellow Americans how far they're willing to go, and you'll be amazed by their answers.

In a 2018 Google survey, we asked:

Using weighted averages, more than 1 in 5 (21.8%) asserted that they would "Stop using public WiFi". Surprisingly, nearly 1 in 6 (15.5%) said that they would "Stop using social media". Even more shocking, nearly 1 in 16 (6.4%) said that they would be willing to "Move to North Korea"! That's even bigger than the 4.6% who would "Switch to a non-smartphone". Over half (51.6%) wouldn't take any of these steps to protect their identity.

When it comes to reducing your risk of identity theft, "Limiting use of public WiFi or using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt communications done through public WiFi is a good choice," says Professor Steve Weisman, who teaches White Collar Crime at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

But Greg Scott, an IT professional and identity theft victim, believes our personal information is already available. "The problem here is, other than moving to North Korea, none of those choices are much help in guarding against identity theft. And anyone who seriously wants to move to North Korea has bigger problems. The uncomfortable truth is, our private information is already out there and up for sale, and whether we have a smartphone or use social media or public WiFi is irrelevant."

Men were more likely than women to stop using social media, 18.2% vs. 13.2% They were also more than three times more likely to move to North Korea; 10.6% of the men, more than 1 in 10, were willing to take this drastic step, compared to just 2.8% of the women.

The older the respondent, the more likely they were to give up social media. Only 1 in 12 (8.8%) of the youngest group, 18-24 years old, would be willing to make that sacrifice, compared to more than 1 in 5 (20.8%) of the oldest group, aged 65+.

Cautions Weisman, who is also an attorney, "Social media doesn't have to be abandoned, but people should be much more judicious about the personal information they post on social media that can be used to make them victims of identity theft. For instance, everyone does not have to know your birthday."

It seems peculiar that there aren't better ways to protect our data from identity thieves. So, we asked 862 people:

Nearly 4 in 5 (79.3%) agreed that there should be better ways to protect your identity. Why is it so hard? Or are the credit bureaus not really trying?

It's so hard because the Internet adopted standards a generation ago that were never designed to scale to today's use," explains Scott, author of Bullseye Breach, a novel based on a massive identity theft. "We have plenty of Internet safety technology, but much of it is either less convenient to use, or incompatible with what's in place today, and so far, we're choosing convenience over safety. As for the credit bureaus not really trying... we need to remember that consumers are not credit bureau customers, we're raw material. Credit bureaus are not accountable to consumers, they're accountable to creditors."

Weisman, author of Identity Theft Alert, counsels, "The credit freeze is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from identity theft, however, the credit reporting bureaus have made it very inconvenient for people to freeze their credit because they make their money by selling our information. When the account is frozen, this cannot be done. We are not their customers. We are their product."

The 79.3% who believe that there should be better ways to protect your identity was a weighted average of all 862 respondents. But, that was nearly 7 in 8 (87.3%) of the people who believed that the moon landing on July 20, 1969 really occurred. The difference? More than 1 in 11 (9.3%) respondents agreed with the statement that "The moon landing was 'fake news'"! The 35-44 age group most strongly believed the moon landing was fake news (13.0%), compared to only 3.5% of those age 65+.

Notes Weisman, who also runs the Scamicide site, "Ironically, those people who believe the moon landing was fake news might also be more at risk of identity theft if they click on malware-infected links or websites pandering to their conspiracy theories."

Says Scott, who watched the moon landing on live television, "We did send people to the moon and we can fix the credit reporting system. Here's one proposal. My proposal is a starting point, not the final word. Use it as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate we really can fix the system. If we can overcome the politics around all this, let's put a small group together representing consumers, creditors, and the credit reporting industry, and let's hammer out a rock-paper-scissors standard everyone can accept. We can win the fight against identity theft, but first we must decide to step into the ring."

Protect your credit – protect your identity – protect yourself with a free MoneyTips trial.

For more of our exclusive data and insights, visit MoneyTips Identity Protection Survey Findings.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Warchi

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