A staggering estimated 1.2 million Massachusetts residents lost personal or financial information to data theft in 2013 alone, according to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. That means that about one in five people in the state were victims.
Experts are linking 80 percent of those cases to the massive Target data breach that made headlines at the end of last year, affecting tens of millions of shoppers.
While Massachusetts law dictates that companies must report breaches, that same requirement does not exist on a federal level. Corporations are not obligated to tell customers when their private information has been compromised. Neither do banks have to tell consumers where they may have become a fraud victim when they replace their debit or credit cards.
Massachusetts-based consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky tells The Boston Globe that the American public deserves greater transparency when it comes to data breaches. He also worries that the steady stream of new attacks by cyber criminals may actually result in weariness among the public.
"Because these breaches are happening more and more …↑ consumers are becoming numb," Dworsky tells the newspaper. "The only thing the consumer can do is be vigilant."
While the news of more and more hacker attacks and data breaches can definitely become exhausting, it is important to stay alert and guard your privacy. Remember that every American is entitled to one free credit report per year from the major credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Checking your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly can also help, as can investing in a credit monitoring service. While such services cannot guarantee your protection against identity theft, they can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud connected to your name. Once you are made aware of this activity, you can take action to stop the fraudsters before they can do too much damage to your creditworthiness.
While cyber criminals may obtain your personal and financial information through a retailer, restaurant or bank, they will often also try to get it by going directly to your online accounts. That's why it is also important to improve your digital security by following some basic password protection tips.
Never use the same password across more than one account. For example, your login information for your banking profile should be completely different from your Facebook credentials. You should also avoid using slight variations on the same password as they can be easy to crack. Think of each of your accounts as a different room in a house. If all of them have the same password, then a hacker only needs one key to steal all of your information. If, on the other hand, each room has a different key, a cyber criminal can only break into one room at a time, seriously limiting how much they can take with them.
To keep track of all of these unique passwords, try using an online password manager, which stores all of your login information in a digital vault that is easy for you to access but difficult for hackers. Such a system gives you the efficiency of a single sign on but with increased digital security.