The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is certainly the bigger headline grabber these days, but in a new survey by MagnifyMoney, we found more than half of Americans - 54 percent - are more concerned about the September 2017 Equifax breach than the social media snafu.
Based on the survey, which polled 1,000 U.S. adults, the knowledge that information like your Social Security Number and past addresses are in the hands of hackers is slightly more disconcerting than the idea of a political consulting firm using your Facebook data to influence an election.
The survey was conducted March 27-28, just days after news broke about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and several months since the Equifax breach was first made public.
Despite these concerns, half of Americans have taken NO action to protect their data since the the Equifax breach.
As far as the Equifax scandal is concerned, 50 percent of Americans say they haven't taken any action to protect their sensitive information in the months since the September 2017 breach. The most reported action was simply checking one's credit report for shady activity, which only 22 percent of respondents reported having done. Ten percent have closed unused credit accounts, frozen or locked their credit files (8 percent) or changed their ATM PIN information (7 percent).
1 in 4 people are considering no longer using the internet or apps to access bank/financial accounts:
Among those who currently access accounts online, about a quarter of respondents said they are considering no longer accessing their bank and financial accounts with mobile apps or via the internet. To get an idea of what kind of impact that may make, in 2016, the Federal Reserve reported 43% of all mobile phone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking. That figure jumps up to 53% among smartphone owners with a bank account.
Facebook could lose a substantial portion of its fan base
1 in 5 Americans are considering deleting their Facebook account post-data scandal. The remainder said they would take other precautions, such as using the social media platform less often, using the "share" button less and removing things they have "liked" in the past.
Facebook and Equifax scandals: A quick primer
Facebook: In the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, a Russian-American developer, Aleksandr Kogan, built a Facebook quiz that was able to exploit a loophole in Facebook's app interface. The loophole helped to gather information on not only the more than 250,000 people who took the quiz, but on all their friends, too - without their knowledge. Cambridge Analytica obtained that data and sold it to Strategic Communication Laboratories, a British consulting firm that worked on the Trump campaign, although the data's sale was prohibited by Facebook. SCL group touts it's an expert in "psychological warfare" and "influence operations." The main issue here is the loophole that led to the initial access to users' friends' Facebook data.
Equifax breach: In September 2017, Equifax, one of three major credit reporting agencies, announced hackers obtained the sensitive data of about 143 million Americans, or about 44 percent of the population. The stolen information was sensitive information like names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers that thieves can use to commit identity and financial fraud. Equifax later announced about 2.5 million additional U.S. consumers were potentially impacted. Then in March 2018, it announced an additional 2.4 million people were impacted by the cybersecurity breach, bringing the total about 148 million people, or roughly 45 percent of the American population.
What to do to protect your data
Although the survey reports 54 percent of respondents were more concerned about their data being stolen in the Equifax breach, the same survey shows many Americans have taken little to no precautions to protect themselves from said identity thieves.
You are your first line of defense against identity theft. If you want to make sure you've done your part to protect your sensitive data and avoid the hassle of dealing with the aftermath of identity theft, you may consider taking at least one of the following precautions:
Sign up for credit monitoring
Credit monitoring services can let you easily see the information on your credit report so you can look out for any shady activity. Several free and paid services exist to help you keep tabs on your credit report. Free options include credit monitoring offered through Credit Karma, Discover, Mint, Wells Fargo and Capital One®. Some identity theft protection services like the ones offered through myFICO charge a monthly fee to monitor your credit year-round and provide identity theft insurance.
Temporarily lock your credit report with a credit lock
You can use a credit lock to restrict access to your credit report, making it difficult for other new credit accounts to open in your name. You can lock your credit for free with two of the three major credit reporting bureaus. TransUnion offers TrueID which lets you instantly lock and unlock your report online or via a mobile app. It also offers free credit monitoring. Equifax's Lock & Alert does the same thing. Experian's CreditLock service acts similarly but it is not free. It's included in the agency's $24.99 a month CreditWorks Premium service.
Freeze your credit report with a credit freeze
A credit freeze does the same thing as a credit lock does as it prevents anyone from applying for credit in your name until the freeze is removed. A credit freeze is different from a credit lock in that it's not a company product, but a feature the credit bureaus are required to offer by law. In some states, you will need to pay a fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit report. Because the service is guaranteed by law, it may give consumers more rights in the event that fraud happens after a freeze is put in place. However, it can be much more difficult to remove a freeze. You can thaw a freeze if you need to apply for credit, for example, but in some cases, the credit bureau may ask you to mail them a letter requesting a thaw, which can take days to arrive. A credit lock requires less hassle.
Make a plan to respond to identity theft
Make sure you know what to do in the event your identity is stolen. Having a plan in play may help you notice the theft sooner, and minimize the damage and stress it can cause. Credit monitoring can help you find out about theft sooner rather than later.
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MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.