The frequency of attacks on Americans’ personal information has fostered a feeling of inevitability among citizens: Nearly half of US adults (48%) think it is at least somewhat likely that identity theft will cause them financial loss in the next year. However, many of them are taking steps to change their behavior in order to protect themselves.
According to results from a telephone survey of 1,006 Americans adults conducted by The Harris Poll for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) in the fall of 2017, the frequency and scope of data breaches – such as the Equifax breach, which compromised almost every American adult – has many questioning the effectiveness of cybersecurity practices businesses currently have in place. In fact, 8 in 10 Americans (81%) said they are at least somewhat concerned about the ability of businesses to safeguard their financial and personal information, with 2 in 5 (40%) reporting that they are extremely or very concerned.
Accordingly, the survey found that four in five Americans (81%) have changed up their approaches to life. When it comes to the threat of cyber-breaches affecting credit card and debit card processing systems, a majority of respondents are increasing self-monitoring of credit and debit card accounts for fraudulent activity (56%), while about 40% are either using cash and/or checks more often (43%) or choosing to shop at locally owned stores more often instead of at national retailers (40%).
Less positively, while three out of five Americans (61%) have at least looked at their credit report, more than a third (35%) have never checked it. This is particularly alarming, as a majority of those who have checked their credit (66%) had to take steps with a credit reporting agency to correct inaccuracies, with the average being 13 specific corrections among those who have taken steps at least once.
“Protecting your information is an ongoing process that requires you to be vigilant, identify where you can improve and take action to firm up your safeguards,” said Gregory Anton, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “This means regularly monitoring your credit card and bank statement and periodically checking your credit report for anything that looks out of the ordinary.”
Most distressing, those with a household income of less than $35,000 were found to be more likely to never have looked at their credit report than those with a household income of $100,000 (44% vs. 30%).
“Having a good credit score and access to favorable interest rates is something that benefits people of all income brackets, but it is particularly important for those who are in a financial situation where a few percentage points in interest would make a big impact on their financial well-being,” added Anton. “Everyone should check their credit score for free with one of the three major credit reporting agencies at least once a year and not wait until suspicious activity occurs.”
US citizens are taking other precautions to keep their information safe online. For instance, a quarter of Americans (26%) said they have reduced their online presence, either turning off social media or visiting fewer websites because of concerns about data security. One in five (20%) have signed up for additional fraud detection or credit monitoring. Roughly 10% report they are switching their shopping to different national stores because of concern about data breaches (11%), placing a freeze on their credit (11%) or shopping online more often, because they feel like it is safer (11%). About 5% said they use alternative forms of currency.
“While it’s positive that American are taking steps to mitigate the risk from cyber-breaches, each time there is a new breach in the headlines there is the risk that the public becomes numb,” added Anton. “Identity theft may seem like it’s inevitable, but our message is that it doesn’t have to be.”