It seems like every day we hop on to the Internet, check out the news, and see a report about yet another company suffering a breach and losing control of their customers’ data. It is frustrating and can seem ridiculous that such breaches continue to occur.  While breaches are frequent, fortunately, not every American has necessarily felt the direct pain and consequences of these data breaches. However, just because you haven’t noticed doesn’t mean that your data has not been stolen.  Unfortunately, the reality is that every single American who has ever taken out credit, had medical care, or simply has an ID has probably had their data stolen at least once. In fact, your trusty author here is quite confident that he has had his data stolen in at least 8 different data breaches.

I make this assertion simply through evaluating the major data breaches over the last 10 years, not to mention all of the smaller breaches that have not received the media scrutiny and even breaches that have gone undiscovered.  Let’s look at a few data breaches to illustrate this:

Equifax Breach, 2017

Equifax is one of the major credit reporting bureaus and gathers data on pretty much every American who has ever taken out credit. The Federal Trade Commission reports that data on over 143 million Americans had their personal data “exposed”. With a total population of a reported U.S. population of 325.7 million people in 2017, that’s almost 44% of people who had their data compromised. Simply, this breach was so large that if you qualify to have a credit score, you can assume your data was stolen.

Yahoo Breach, 2018

Even though Yahoo has been declining in popularity for years, it once dominated the internet landscape and still maintains billions of accounts for people across the globe. This data breach resulted in over 3 billion Yahoo accounts being compromised, yes that billion with a B – that’s almost twice the entire population of China!  Quite simply, if you ever had a Yahoo account in its long, illustrious history, you need to assume your data was stolen. And while that data may not have contained your social security number, credit card numbers, or health records, it is possible the breach resulted in your email accounts being compromised as well as your name and other personally identifying information. Think about all the stuff that you may have saved in your email accounts that you would not want hackers to have access to!

Credit Card Breaches

Rather than specify a specific breach, let’s just group all credit card breaches into one.  They are so common and widespread that holistically we can safely assume your credit card data has been stolen.  Have you ever had your bank or credit card company mail you new cards out of the blue?  If the answer is yes, your card was likely breached. But even if the answer is no, it is still highly likely you’ve been compromised. In a credit card breach, the danger is that in most cases your name, credit card number, and zip code are usually stolen.

These are just three examples of major breaches in which your data may have been lost and that’s not to mention other major breaches such as the Office Personnel Management, Anthem Healthcare, Marriott, Facebook, and JP Morgan Chase.

Why does this matter?

It certainly does not feel good to know that our personal data is likely in the hands of cyber criminals, foreign governments, or even just someone who shouldn’t have it. Understanding and accepting that your information has been compromised though helps us to change our mindset and take steps to try to mitigate the threat to us and attempt to be more cautious in the future.

Just because your data has been stolen does not mean that identity theft is inevitable, but it definitely is an increased risk. So it may be smart to look into ways to protect your identity through working with your bank, researching and implementing personal security strategies, or even investigating 3rd party ID protection services.

It also should drive us to tighten up our online behaviors and profile. Make sure you are frequently changing your passwords, clear out your browser history and cache from time to time, be careful about what you are posting on social media and tighten your privacy settings, and try to only use reputable online market places.  If you don’t absolutely need to input your credit card or social security numbers, don’t.  You also should take steps to learn how to identify email threats to decrease the likelihood that you will be duped by a phishing email.

Quite simply, data breaches and the compromise of our private data is an unfortunate reality that we have to live with in this day and age.  Yes, your data has probably been stolen and likely more than once.  It is not the end of the world, but it should motivate us to do our part to be more secure in the future.

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