While it’s no secret just how problematic it can be to fall victim to identity theft, a recent study shows that people may be more exposed to the crime than they realise.
In all, more than 24 million Americans have sensitive personal information about themselves listed online, at a total number of 290 million records, according to a new study by the online security firm Safe Shepherd. That comes to about 12 records per person nationwide. And unfortunately for those exposed, the information can be extremely easy to come by.
“For $10, anyone is able to buy the personal information of another person, and this data is the tip of the iceberg,” said Robert Leshner, CEO of Safe Shepherd. “We estimate there [are] over 4 billion records available — these are just the ones we’ve found in private using our API. People have no idea how vulnerable their personal information is, and we want this to be a call to action. People need to know what’s out there about them, and we’re here to help.”
Texas residents were the most affected by this problem, with 22 million records exposed for 1.8 million people, the report said. Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio rounded out the top five for having the most exposed records. On the other hand, Hawaii topped the list for fewest records available on a per-person basis, while Montana and Wyoming tied for second, and South and North Dakota finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Meanwhile, though California was actually fairly low on the list of affected states, the number of available records there, and the total number of exposed people, was actually the highest in the country, at nearly 46.7 million for close to 4.1 million people, the report said. Wyoming had the smallest number of files available (about 524,000), while North Dakota had the fewest affected residents (less than 48,000).
For this reason, it’s vital that consumers keep a close eye on their financial accounts to ensure that their bank accounts and credit cards don’t get hit by thieves, and to check their credit reports and credit scores to be sure that criminals aren’t opening fraudulent lines of credit in their name.
“It’s imperative that each of us commit ourselves to a culture of monitoring,” said Credit.com’s Chairman and Co-Founder Adam Levin. “You can do everything right, but if you’re on the wrong database, at the wrong time, when the wrong person gains unauthorised access, then you’re done. It’s really no longer a question of if you get hit with identity theft, but rather when.”
Consumers can check their credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — for free each year through AnnualCreditReport.com. And they can monitor their credit score for free once per month using Credit.com’s Credit Report Card. And should any questionable accounts be discovered, they should be reported to the institution that issued the account as soon as possible.