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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

  • Four Chinese military personnel have been charged following the 2017 Equifax data breach. In addition to charges for stealing the information of 145 million Americans, the United States government also alleges that they stole Equifax trade secrets.
  • Capital One announced a data breach on July 29, 2019. A hacker had stolen Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information of 106 million consumers.
  • Marriott data breach exposes information of up to 500 million guests who made a reservation on or before Sept. 10, 2018.
  • Earl Enterprises data breach exposes information of customers at all of their restaurants: Planet Hollywood, Buca di Beppo, Chicken Guy!, Mixology, Tequila Taqueria and Earl of Sandwich.
  • Orbitz data breach exposed customers’ information. Customers who booked directly on Orbitz and partner sites could be impacted.

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 exposed information:

  • The number of breaches reported in 2019 increased by 17% from 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.
  • Even though the financial sector had the least number of breaches, it had the highest percentage of breached sensitive personal identifying information, according to the ITRC.

See related: 10 things you should know about identity theft

What you can do to protect your personal info

Though the number of consumers affected by data breaches is on the rise, it’s also getting easier to monitor your information and take control of the situation quicker.

Free credit reports

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 financial institutions and websites offer regular credit scoring that let you continuously monitor your reports for unauthorized accounts or errors. Though this won’t contain all of the information listed in your credit report, it is a convenient way to catch any discrepancies quickly.

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. It 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. 

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.

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, using cash instead of a credit card effectively erases the possibility of having your personal information stolen. 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.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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