Have Cards, Will Travel

ID thieves covet SSNs over credit card data

Sabrina Karl
Personal Finance Writer
Data whiz and visual storyteller


While treasure troves of credit card numbers come to many people’s minds when they hear “data breach,” hackers are actually much more interested in stealing Social Security numbers. So much so that SSN breaches are outnumbering card data breaches 4 to 1.

Reported data breaches as a whole are on a dramatic upward trend. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of tracked U.S. data breaches hit an all-time high in 2016, up a whopping 40 percent over the previous year.

Though we’re only in mid-September, the number of 2017 breaches is already approaching 2016’s count, so we’ll see another all-time high set this year, perhaps up another 30-40 percent.

But while the share of breaches that exposed card data has come down in the last couple of years, and sits at its lowest point since 2012, SSN breaches have instead risen for three years and are at their highest rate since 2011.

As a result, the percentage of breaches involving Social Security numbers was four times as high as the percentage that exposed card data in 2016. And at 56 percent versus 14 percent so far this year, SSN breaches are on track to be four times higher again in 2017. Previously, SSN breaches were only 2-3 times more-common than card data breaches.

The Identity Theft Resource Center has been tracking breaches involving Social Security and card numbers since 2010. Its ITRC Breach List is a compilation of data breaches confirmed by various media sources and/or notification lists from state governmental agencies, and is updated constantly.

While the latest breach figures include the massive Equifax hack announced in early September, the tracker counts each breach as one, regardless of whether it exposed 10,000 records or 143 million (as in the credit bureau hack). So even though the Equifax breach was huge, its inclusion doesn’t skew the data shown in the chart below.


Infographic: ID thieves covet Social Security numbers more than credit card data

See related: The last 4 digits of your SSN are all an ID thief needs, When you should, shouldn’t give out your Social Security number, More infographics

To use the graphic on your site, use the following code:

<center><a href=””><img alt=” Infographic: Thieves find Social Security numbers enticing” border=”0″ src=”” /></a> </center>

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