Rise in Data Breaches Has Consumers More Cautious about Shopping Habitsby
Do you shop or bank online? Do you pay your bills or enter your Social Security number on a website? Do you use the same password for multiple accounts?
If so, you may be at risk for identity theft.
Twenty-five percent of the more than 1,000 US adults who were recently surveyed by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) said they were victims of an information security breach over the past 12 months, up from 11 percent who reported being victimized the previous year.
“The increase in data breaches affecting personal information has given consumers significant cause to be cautious about their activities – both online and off,” Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, said in a written statement. “Data breaches have the potential to seriously affect consumers' finances and wreak havoc on their credit scores. The good news is that we are seeing Americans taking steps to safeguard their information and reduce their susceptibility to these attacks.”
Concerns about personal data and security are shifting the way Americans shop at stores and on websites, according to the survey. Eight in 10 Americans (82 percent) are adapting their buying habits in the wake of recent cyberattacks, up from 69 percent last year.
More Americans (56 percent) said they are using cash and/or checks for purchases instead of credit or debit cards, and 40 percent have reduced their online presence by logging off social media accounts or visiting fewer websites.
Millennials are the group least affected, with only 34 percent reducing their online presence, according to the survey. Are millennials more savvy than baby boomers when it comes to protecting their online security? Possibly so.
The survey found that only 22 percent of millennials were victims of security breaches last year, as compared to 34 percent of baby boomers between the ages of 55 and 64, although all ages are vulnerable to personal information security attacks, the AICPA warned.
Cyberattacks can be detrimental to victims’ financial well-being. Twenty percent of respondents said that identity theft has negatively affected their credit score, and 26 percent reported that their credit score prevented them from obtaining a personal loan, credit card, or mortgage last year. In addition, 8 percent of respondents said they couldn’t rent an apartment because of their credit score.
These numbers underscore the importance of the issue. In the wake of security breaches at major retailers, including Target Corp. and TJX Co. stores, the survey gauged respondents’ concerns about businesses’ ability to safeguard their financial and personal data.
More than half (51 percent) said they are “extremely concerned” or “very concerned,” up 12 percent from last year. Fewer millennials (42 percent) reported being extremely concerned or very concerned about the same issue.
Five Ways to Protect Your Financial Information
The AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offers the following five tips to keep your personal and financial information safe.
Be proactive. Reach out to your bank and credit card companies and ask what safeguards are available, including fraud alerts and purchase limits. Many companies have these features available, but you may have to opt in.
Avoid shopping or banking while using a public Wi-Fi connection. It's unwise to transmit personal data on a connection that isn't secure, including those in coffee shops and public places. An unsecure connection means hackers may be able to gain access to your personal information and use it to make unauthorized purchases.
Secure your credit cards. Make a list of all of your credit cards (including account numbers and emergency phone numbers of each issuer) and keep it in a safe place. When you use your credit card in a restaurant or store, keep it in your sight.
Don’t click on unknown email links. Links provided in unsolicited emails or social media sites may take you to sites that try to collect information for identity theft. To get to a site, directly type the website address into your browser or search for it in a search engine like Google or Yahoo.
Follow up quickly. If your financial information has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit report at all three major credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). If your wallet or ID is stolen, immediately notify police, your bank and credit card providers, and all credit reporting bureaus.