One-in-four Americans (25 percent) fell victim to information security breaches in the past year, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which polled 1,010 US adults. This represented more than double the number of people (11 percent) who reported being victimized in a similar survey taken just over a year ago.
No age group is safe from personal information security breaches--regardless of their online activity. The survey showed that 34 percent of adults aged 55-64 fell victim to information security breaches in the last year, compared to the 22 percent of millennials who are typically seen as being the most active age group in digital communications platforms among adults.
Cyber attacks not only put Americans' information at risk; these breaches can have an adverse effect on consumers' personal finances.
One-in-five Americans (20 percent) said identity theft has negatively affected their credit score. In addition, one-in-four Americans (26 percent) reported that their credit score prevented them from doing at least one thing in the past year, including obtaining a personal loan, a credit card, or a mortgage. Eight percent reported they were prevented from renting an apartment and five percent were unable to land a job because of their credit score. These numbers underscore the importance of the issue.
The survey also found that 86 percent of adults reported some concern in businesses' ability to safeguard customers' financial and other personal information, with a majority (51 percent) saying they are "extremely concerned" or "very concerned." The latter figure is up from 39 percent a year ago. Perhaps because digital communication and online payments are so ingrained in their daily life, fewer Millennials (42 percent) reported being extremely concerned or very concerned about businesses' abilities to protect their data, less than any other age group surveyed.
"Data breaches have the potential to seriously affect consumers' finances and wreck 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," commented Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
The survey found more than four-in-five (82 percent) Americans are shifting their purchasing behavior in the wake of increased cyber-attacks, a 13 percentage point increase (69 percent) from a year ago. Fifty-six percent said they are now using more cash and/or checks for purchases, and 40 percent have reduced their online presence--including turning off social media accounts or visiting fewer websites. In comparison, only 34 percent of Millennials have reduced their online presence in the wake of increase information security breaches, the least of any age group.
Protecting personal information has become a major concern. The AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offers the following useful tips for keeping your financial information safe and protecting yourself against personal information security breaches.
- Be proactive: Reach out to your bank and credit card companies and ask what safeguards they have available, including fraud alerts and purchase limits. Many companies have these features available, but you may have to opt in.
- Avoid shopping using a public Wi-Fi connection: It's generally a bad idea to transmit any personal data on a connection that isn't secure--including those in coffee shops and public places. An unsecured connection means hackers may be able to gain access to any personal information you share with the retailer 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). Secure this information in a safe place. When you use your credit card in a restaurant or a store, don't let it leave your sight.
- Avoid clicking on unknown links in emails: Don't click on links in unsolicited emails or social media sites, even if they purport to be from trustworthy retailers, because they may take you to sites that are trying to collect information for identity theft. Instead, type the organization's website address in to your browser's address bar or find it through a search.
- Follow up quickly: If your financial information has been compromised in any way, ask each credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. If your wallet or personal identification is stolen, immediately notify the police, your credit card providers, your bank, and the three major credit reporting bureaus.