Data breaches drive identity theft and fraud

Data breaches are affecting consumers nationwide and residents in and around Washington, D.C. are not immune to the consequences. According to a survey by Experian, 57 percent have been a victim of identity theft or know someone who has, with about two out of three victims experiencing fraudulent charges on their credit or debit cards. 28 percent discovered a new account was opened in their name.

Survey respondents became aware they were victims of identity theft by their financial institution or card issuer (35 percent) or by noticing charges on their payment card themselves (30 percent). Almost 50 percent of survey respondents attribute the theft to a data breach. One out of five local residents are victims of medical identity theft.

While data breaches are out of consumers’ hands, many D.C. metro area residents are not being as vigilant as they could be in protecting themselves. Only 37 percent of survey respondents are somewhat likely to take proactive steps to safeguard their personal information, and 12 percent are not likely.

Many consumers’ still practice risky behaviors such as failing to password-protect their smartphone or tablet device (49 percent) or not developing difficult PINs and passwords (61 percent). A majority also believe that monitoring all of their financial transactions is too time-consuming (63 percent). Yet, 65 percent of survey respondents believe that they are the most responsible for the security of their personal information.

Some of the good security habits D.C. metro area residents are practicing include avoiding sharing their Social Security number unless required by law (74 percent of survey respondents), being wary of phishing scams (67 percent of survey respondents) and storing their Social Security card in a safe place (65 percent of survey respondents).

Survey respondents are looking to improve their security practices, with 40 percent seeking to monitor their payment-card transactions “more often” and 35 percent seeking to do so “more closely” as 2015 New Year’s resolutions.

Key steps to protect your identity:

  • Change passwords regularly
  • Avoid sharing personally identifying information, such as your birthday, on social networks
  • Shred financial documents before disposing of them
  • Review credit reports regularly, and watch for signs of fraud
  • If you receive a data-breach notification letter from a business, follow the instructions and enroll in its offer of free protection products.

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