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Research and Statistics

As data breaches increase, here’s how to cut your identity fraud risk

There's no surefire way to avoid a data breach, but these tips can help you minimize the damage


As data breaches increase, it is easier to cut the risk that your card data and other personal info will be stolen. Dark web scans, free credit reports and virtual card numbers can ease your anxiety about identity theft.

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To counter data breaches that have become a new normal, card issuers and credit bureaus now offer free tools to better monitor your personal and credit information. While there’s no surefire way to avoid a data breach, you can make yourself less vulnerable to identity theft.

Follow continuing coverage on recent data breaches

Here’s a quick look at the expanding reach of data breaches – and what you can do now to protect your vital information.

Data breaches expose millions of records

If you’re anxious about data breaches, there are millions of reasons to justify that fear. Consider these statistics tracking bank and other information exposed:

  • More than 1.7 million banking, credit or financial records were compromised in a data breach at some point in 2018, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
  • The amount of stolen bank data being sold on the dark web more than doubled between July 2017 and June 2018 over the previous year, according to data by the cybersecurity firm IntSights.
  • It’s not just banking and financial information that is exposed in data breaches. An estimated 415 million business records, nearly 18 million military and government records and 9 million health care records were breached in 2018, according to the ITRC.

See related: 10 things you should know about identity theft

What you can do to protect your personal info

As the number of consumers affected by a data breach continues to rise, financial services providers now offer a growing number of security-related services to help people better monitor their information and feel more in control of it.

Free dark web scans for Social Security numbers

CreditWise, the free credit tracking tool offered by Capital One, sends text alerts that let you know if your Social Security number is being sold on the dark web and monitors your Experian and TransUnion credit reports to alert you if any new accounts have been opened in your name.

Discover was the first card issuer to offer free Social Security number alerts and dark web scanning in 2017. While these security tools used to be available only to Discover customers, it is now available to anyone through their Credit Scorecard tool.

Experian, one of the big three credit bureaus, also now offers a free dark web scan that searches for your Social Security number, email address or phone number.

If your information pops up on web pages that it shouldn’t, Experian, Capital One and Discover detail what you should do next. 

It’s easier to get free credit reports now

For years, consumers have been able to get one free copy of their credit reports from all three major credit bureaus once every 12 months through, but if you wanted to keep monitoring your reports through the year, you typically had to pay for it.

Now, a growing number of websites, including Bankrate, offer free credit reports so you can continuously monitor your reports for unauthorized accounts or errors.    

Free credit freeze

All three credit bureaus offer free credit freezes. This allows consumers to lock down their credit, preventing new accounts from being opened – an especially useful tool in cases where identity theft has been detected or is suspected.

In the past, you had to pay to freeze your credit. But legislation passed in the wake of the Equifax breach requires credit bureaus to offer this option to consumers for free. This law also requires freezes set up electronically to be placed within one day and removed within one hour of the consumer’s request.

See related: How to freeze your credit: A step-by-step guide

Virtual numbers can cut your fraud risk online

When you shop online, you can use virtual numbers, disposable credit and debit card numbers that mask your card details. Bank of America, Citi and Capital One offer these, and how virtual numbers work varies among card issuers.

For example, you can set them up for a one-time online purchase, for online purchases made within a window of time or designate one number for each online retailer where you shop.

Another option to reduce your chance of ID theft: Use cash

Though you will be losing out on credit card rewards, sticking with cash for in-person transactions reduces to zero the chance a fraudster can steal your personal information (such as at a skimmer at a gas station or ATM).

You also might choose to only use credit cards in person when the retailer accepts contactless or chip cards, which cuts the fraud risk associated with swiping the magnetic strip on your card.

Take steps now to protect your identity and card info

Data breaches have become so widespread and affected so many organizations – including those you can’t avoid, such as hospitals, banks and credit reporting agencies – it’s practically impossible to shield your information completely.

But you can take some steps to reduce your risk of identity theft.

The free dark web scanning and free credit report services are a boon to wary (and weary from the flood of data breaches in the news) consumers since they allow people to keep tabs on their information without paying a big fee or spending a lot of time on it.

If you haven’t already, consider signing up for a free monitoring service, such as Capital One’s CreditWise or Discover’s Social Security number alerts (if you are a Discover customer). These services notify you if an account has been opened in your name.

Also check your credit reports regularly and freeze them immediately if you see evidence your identity has been stolen. Once your accounts are frozen, fraudsters won’t be able open any more accounts in your name.

Lastly, practice good password hygiene by regularly changing your passwords and never using the same password twice.

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Published: August 2, 2019

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Credit Card Rate Report Updated: August 21st, 2019
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