The truth is that 99.99% of Americans have their identity stolen. Let’s dive into the real goings-on out there and some simple steps you can take to be a little proactive with your personal information.
Unfortunately, data breaches are too common
I don’t know if you’ve seen the news in the last few years, but data breaches are very common – and we only hear about these because they affect a lot of data or they affect large, well-known companies.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has tracked data breaches since 2005 and has reported 7,674 public breaches, which is a massive one 1,070,186,516 records. That’s over a billion records. Given that there are only about 360 million Americans out there, it’s a safe guess that your information is already out there.
The most widely published violations (though long forgotten in today’s media cycle) include:
The list of hacks and personal information releases goes on and on. Unfortunately, if you look at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website, you will also find that many violations do not even know the amount of information collected.
Finally, remember that these are only the “big” violations. How many small businesses do you think are misusing your information? You give your dentist your name, address and SSN in order to assert your insurance claim – is your data correctly handled and secured?
What about your employer? Your doctor Your landlord? The guy you paid at the farmers market?
And what about every single person you’ve ever written a check to? You have your bank account and sort code as well as your name and address!
And it’s not just your credit card number – it’s your name, address, phone number, social security number, health records, tax records, work records, and more too! It’s all out there! This is just the world we live in today.
All of your personal information is already out there
Have you ever looked around to see how much personal information is already available “out there” about you? It’s pretty scary, but you should know so that you can arm yourself.
First, take a simple test and google your name – what will you get? What if you add your city to your name – so FIRST NAME SURNAME CITY. What’s coming up? Are you shocked by the results?
Next, visit the Pipl.com website. Enter your name, email address, or phone number. Do you see your address? Do you see your previous addresses? Maybe you even see a picture of yourself?
Now that you finally have an address, you can start seeing things that are publicly known in your county or state. Maybe you want to know your neighbor’s tax bill or small business information? Any records from your district officer? This is searchable online.
Oh, and do you think your SSN is safe? It is not. The hacks aside, there are a few common methods to find social security numbers. Before 2011, SSN had a common format based on location and year of birth. You can then use the SSN validator online for free every day and see if you have a valid SSN. Scary!
Can you easily find it all online? What “private” information do companies have about you? Let me show you:
The Equifax violation hit the headlines because it was a credit bureau. Your credit report shows your credit history, what you paid back, were you on time with it, and more. It is a useful document for your finances, and many companies use your credit report to make decisions about their responsibilities.
There are three main credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. If you’d like a free copy of your credit report, you can do so once a year by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
I strongly recommend that you do this annually and ensure that all information is correct.
Aside from loans, there are also companies that keep records of your bank accounts – where you’ve done banking, your credit history, and more. The aim here was originally to stop fraudulent check writers from continuing to take advantage of banks, but as fewer people use checks, this has now become an identity service similar to your credit report.
ChexSystems is the largest company maintaining this type of record and you can get a copy of your information here.
Have you ever gone to a website and asked you really strange questions – have you ever lived at any of the following addresses or do you have a relative by the following name? This information is collected by a service called LexisNexis. That has all kinds of information, from your addresses to insurance claims to work history and more.
You can get a copy of your personal LexisNexis report here.
How Vulnerable Are You Really?
After reading through how much information there is, you may feel a little scared and vulnerable. But the important thing to know is that all of this information has been out there for years and nothing has happened. And the likelihood of something happening is still extremely slim.
See, there are really only two ways you can compromise your information:
- Someone is deliberately stealing your identity: This is the most common way you get compromised and it can be the hardest to prevent when someone is really trying to steal your identity. But you are not a celebrity, so the real odds of this happening are extremely slim – I estimate it to be 1%. This also applies in the event of a break-in into your home or the theft of your wallet. It can happen, but the chances are rare.
- A bot uses randomly hacked information: A more common scenario is that there are hackers and bots that simply take the data that has already been hacked and try to do something with it. They go through credit card numbers and SSNs, simply hoping for a match on a random website to get a sale and moving on once it’s closed.
If someone has actually gone so far as to steal your identity, you’re in bigger trouble than a simple Equifax hack (or other hack). You must report to the police and take action. But that’s no different than being the victim of countless other crimes.
If your information is simply leaked, then the bigger threats are bots and hackers, and there are smart ways to protect yourself and stay vigilant. It is also important to note that with credit cards, You have NO LIABILITY for fraudulent charges. If your card is stolen and used, the card issuer pays the bill, not you. So don’t panic because hackers may be wiped out.