Equifax... Uber... Target... Under Armour.... The list of data hacks keeps growing and growing, increasing the odds that someone will steal your identity. Last year, this digital epidemic affected 14.4 million Americans. But the more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
We conducted an exclusive MoneyTips Google survey in 2018 to see how much people knew about identity theft and the credit bureaus. Do you know all the answers?
We asked people if they knew which data hack was the largest.
A whopping 9 out of 10 didn't know or chose incorrectly. Reader, care to guess, before we reveal the answer?
Using weighted averages, more than half of us (50.9%) admitted that they had no idea which hack was the worst of the century. More than 1 in 3 (34.4%) guessed the Equifax hack, the most popular answer. Although that affected more than 147 million Americans, it is nowhere near the biggest, according to CSO, which helps defend against cyberattacks.
About 1 in 10 (10.2%) selected Yahoo, and those who did were correct. (Did you?) Years after the hack of Yahoo that began in 2013, the company admitted that all 3 billion user accounts had been compromised.
The 2.8% that selected Adult Friend Finder picked the second-largest breach at the time. Hacks of the Friend Finder network, which included casual hookup and adult content sites, impacted more than 412 million accounts (which was recently surpassed by the Starwood breach).
Only 1.7% selected eBay. The auction site suffered a 2014 cyberattack in which data for 145 million users was compromised, numbers similar to the Equifax hack.
Says Professor Steve Weisman, who teaches White Collar Crime at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, "Those who incorrectly identified the Equifax data breach as the largest data breach may well be excused because while more people's information was compromised in the Yahoo data breach, the personal information stolen in the Equifax data breach, including Social Security numbers, was far more sensitive and more likely to lead to identity theft than the information stolen in any of the other data breaches."
Adds Greg Scott, an IT professional who wants to reform the credit reporting system, "While Equifax deserves plenty of blame for that breach, it wasn't the first and won't be the last." You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free by joining MoneyTips.
While the Yahoo hack affected more people, the Equifax hack could have given your financial data to criminals. What if you want to take your financial data down to protect against the next credit bureau hack?
Seven out of 9 (77.7%) picked the right answer, FALSE. The credit bureaus store data about you, but it is not your data. You can't control it or demand that they stop collecting it. No wonder we feel frightened and powerless to protect our personal information.
Says Professor Weisman, author of Identity Theft Alert, "It is somewhat heartening that so many people understand that while the credit reporting bureaus gather and store vast amounts of our personal information, we are not the clients or customers of the credit reporting bureaus. The companies to which they sell our personal information are their customers. We have little effective control over their gathering and use of our personal information."
Adds Scott, author of Bullseye Breach, "The public really is powerless today over the data credit reporting agencies (CRAs) collect about us, because we're not customers, we're raw material. It doesn't need to be that way."
Since they won't remove our data, then the credit bureaus should protect it without charging us, correct? But Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian all charge for identity theft protection! So, we asked:
Surprisingly more than 1 in 4 found that fair. The clear majority found it not fair that companies should charge for protecting your data, which they should be doing anyway.
Says Scott, himself an identity theft victim, "The system doubly screws identity theft victims. First, somebody steals their identity and ruins their credit and law enforcement looks the other way. And then CRAs record all this bad data with no incentive to make sure it's accurate, and no accountability to anyone, forcing victims to jump through hoops and pay through the nose to address problems forced on them."
Adds Weisman, "It is outrageous that the credit reporting bureaus have not only been negligent in protecting our data, but find it reasonable to charge us to protect ourselves from their own negligence."
When will the data hacks end? Since we can't answer that question, we'll ask another one instead: why haven't you protected yourself against identity theft?
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.