Protect Your Data—and Your Dollars

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By Rick Boeth

Rick Boeth
Rick Boeth
Vice President,
Information Security &
Business Continuity

Over the past few years, massive data breaches have become almost commonplace. Leaks put the personal information of billions of people around the world into cybercriminal hands—including email addresses, usernames, passwords, full names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, physical addresses, account numbers and even medical information.

This data can be used against you: Identity thieves can use your information to drain your bank accounts or apply for new credit cards or mortgages in your name.

Perpetrators can also assume your identity in another location to defraud you, such as using your Social Security number for employment, to get medical treatment on your health insurance or to file fraudulent tax returns.

How to Protect Yourself

With so much data out in the open—and the potential for it to be used fraudulently—knowing how to guard your personal information is the first line of defense. Control what you can and monitor your accounts so that any new data breaches may have less of an impact on your life and finances.

In the first half of 2019, 3,813 reported data breaches exposed 4.1 billion account records.

Risk Based Security, 2019 Midyear QuickView Data Breach Report, July 2019.

65% of people admit to reusing the same password for some or all accounts.

Online Security Survey, Google/Harris Poll, February 2019 


  • Use strong passwords and change them often.
    Don't use the same usernames and password for multiple sites, as a data breach for one could compromise your other accounts. In particular, make sure you use different passwords for online financial sites than you use for social media.
  • Be Wary of Wi-Fi.
    Activate password protection for home Wi-Fi networks. Avoid logging in to personal accounts or making transactions through public Wi-Fi, especially if the website you're accessing doesn't include encrypted technology (look for addresses that start with https:// rather than http://).
  • Know what you're clicking on (emails, websites, ads, pop-ups).
    Look for requests to act urgently, threats of consequences, duplication of a legitimate company's logo, bad grammar and misspelled words. If you're unsure if an email is legitimate, type in the web address manually instead of clicking on a link.

Americans lost nearly $50 million in phishing email scams in 2018.

FBI 2018 Internet Crime Report 2018 


  • Keep important documents safe.
    Store your Social Security card and statements, birth certificates, tax returns, financial records, loan agreements and insurance documents in a home safe or locked file cabinet.
  • Shred documents that contain personal information.
    Safely discard monthly bills, bank statements and correspondence, paycheck stubs and direct deposit receipts, pre-approved credit card offers.
  • Check mail daily.
    Stop delivery if you will be away for an extended period of time. Check to see if Informed Delivery, a digital preview of your mail, is available in your area.
  • Keep track of your wallet or purse.
    Consider what you really need to carry: driver's license, debit or credit cards, work identification, gym membership, health insurance card (and not your Social Security card).

Companies take an average of 206 days to discover data breaches—and 49 more days before they notify their customers.

2019 Cost of Data Breach Study, IBM Security and Ponemon Institute LLC, June 2019; Data Breach QuickView Report Year End 2018.

On Your Phone

  • Don't give out personal or financial information during an unsolicited call.
    If the caller claims to be from a company and you're unsure, hang up and call the company's publicly available number directly. Never reply to text messages asking for personal information.
  • Lock your phone; choose a strong passcode.
    Consider using biometric identification features such as fingerprint or face recognition scans. Use remote wipe software to protect your information in case of theft.

Of 1.4 million U.S. fraud reports, 69% of potential victims were contacted by phone.

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2018 

What to Do If Your Information Is Exposed or If You Suspect Identity Theft

Act fast. Hackers and identity thieves obtain your data before you even know it's missing.

  1. Contact financial institutions
  2. Change passwords
  3. Close fraudulent accounts
  4. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
  5. File a report at 
  6. Order copies of credit reports through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau  or through the major credit bureaus
  7. Capture all communications in writing

Additional Identity Theft Resources

Federal Trade Commission 



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