Recent Data Hacks and Tips to Avoid Data Theft

Consumer protection, Money, News, Technology

In our digital data-driven world, it’s not so much a matter of whether another hack will occur that compromises the personal data of thousands or even millions of people, but when. The Apple ID hack this Fall, which compromised the information of millions of Apple users is pretty big news, but plenty of smaller scams and hacks go on every single day. It’s only a matter of time until you become a victim, which is why it pays to be super-vigilant about your digital presence, including your financial transactions.

Here is a look at some of the most recent hacks and scams, along with general rules for protecting yourself:

The Apple Hack

In September, an anonymous hacking group posted the “unique device identifiers” (U.D.I.D.s) of one million Apple mobile devices online, and claimed to have 11 million more plus personal information linked to them. The group said they got the information from an F.B.I. laptop, though the source turned out to be a company called BlueToad, which translates printed content into digital and mobile formats. According to Paul DeHart, BlueToad’s CEO, the numbers were not connected to any information that could be used to harm consumers, but some security experts disagree, even going so far as calling the hack a “privacy catastrophe.”

The Global Payments Hack

Another massive hack that occurred this year was the Global Payments hack, which compromised 1.5 million credit cards in North America. The hackers were said to have obtained credit card data, but not cardholder names, addresses, or social security numbers. Despite Global Payments’ claims that the hack was contained and sensitive information not leaked, numerous customers were victims of bogus credit card charges, possibly as a result of the incident.

Lower Profile Hacks

Though hacks like Apple and Global Payments get a ton of press, it’s actually the  lower-profile, everyday hacks that end up affecting people most often. The Privacy Clearinghouse reports that, since 2005, over 3,000 data breaches have been made public, with over 500 million records compromised. Not only that, but every time you hand your credit card to anyone to pay for something out of your view (think waiters, bartenders, and even parking lot attendants), you run the risk of having your number stolen. ATM “skimming” is another way people can access your credit card information. The list of ways in which data can be compromised is endless.

Protecting Yourself

Although it may seem like it’s impossible to avoid becoming a victim of hacking or credit theft, there are some basic precautions you can take to protect yourself and make it less likely that you’ll be affected by data theft:

1.    Don’t connect all your online accounts. A writer for found this out the hard way when he was hacked through his Twitter account and everything else was taken down with it because his Apple, Amazon, and Google accounts were all connected. Using multiple accounts with different passwords and not connecting them to each other is less convenient, but offers much better protection.

2.    Change your passwords regularly—experts say every 3 to 6 months–and make sure they’re strong.

3.    Closely monitor your banking activity. Online banking makes it easy to keep an eye on what’s happening with your account even daily. Many banks have apps that send push notifications to your smartphone when a transaction occurs. This is one of the best ways to be sure someone isn’t skimming off your accounts.

4.    Keep an eye on your credit report, which will indicate whether any of your financial data has been compromised. It can take time to correct errors on a credit report, so vigilantly tracking yours is extremely important. You can order a free credit report every 12 months through credit reporting services such as Equifax and Experian thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Information on obtaining a free credit report is available through the Federal Trade Commission. Some experts recommend checking your credit report every six months, although you may have to pay a fee to do so.