Majority of Americans Don’t Know They’ve Been Affected by a Data Breach

close up of hand unlocking their phone

In November, the Marriott hotel chain revealed that 500 million people had their information exposed in a data breach. Hackers had access to their reservation system for four years. Nearly 6.5 percent of the world’s population had their names, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers or credit card details exposed in one of the largest corporate data breaches in history.

It seems every other week a new data breach is revealed. Nowhere is safe —not a sandwich shop, clothing store or fitness tracking app. Even if you never go online (which is unlikely, unless someone printed this post for you) and you only used cash from now on, you’d still likely be at risk. The credit monitoring system, Equifax, had a huge breach in 2017 exposing highly sensitive information. Yet very few of the people gave their information directly to Equifax. They simply used a credit card, applied for a loan or did something else to gain a credit history (which is, generally, a good thing).

So how are Americans handling the deluge of cybersecurity problems? In our survey of over 1,000 people, we found that despite all the news stories and potential risks, many Americans are lost when it comes to data breaches.

Key findings:

  • A majority of Americans have never checked if they’ve been affected by a data breach
  • 1 in 5 people have checked for a breach within the last month
  • 66% don’t know what to check if a breach occurs

Over Half Have Never Checked If They’ve Been Affected by a Data Breach

They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Many Americans seem to have taken that to heart when it comes to data breaches. According to data breach tracking site, Breach Level Index, more than 13.4 billion data records have been lost or stolen since 2013. Yet 56 percent of our survey respondents have never checked if they’ve been affected by one.

percent of people who have never checked whether they've been affected by a data breach

There are some age groups that are more diligent about keeping track of breaches — notably Americans over 55. They are 15% more likely to have checked for a breach at some point than all other age groups.

Data breaches can have a number of nasty impacts on those affected. The non-profit organization, Identity Theft Resource Center, reported 14,207,346 credit card numbers exposed in 2017. Unsurprisingly, credit card fraud was the most common type of identity theft. Some have been victims of tax fraud, losing their refund to a thief with their data. There have also been cases of hackers extorting people over the information exposed, like the Ashley Madison hack. Not to mention the stress, fear and helplessness identity theft can inflict on people.

2 in 3 Don’t Know What to Do During a Data Breach

In today’s world, it’s incredibly difficult to avoid sharing information altogether and almost impossible to ensure that data is safe. Figuring out if you’re information has been compromised is an almost equally daunting task. 1,579 U.S. data breaches were tracked in 2017. Checking on each one would have required looking into more than four a day, every day, during that year. It’s no wonder that a majority of people don’t know what to check when a data breach occurs.

Some are even less confident than others. For all their tech savviness, 18–24 year-olds are least likely to know what to check. This could potentially be blamed on lack of experience. It may also be a lack of concern. This age group is also least likely to have even checked if a breach affected them. Given their personal information has less history they may assume they have less to lose. While they may not have a lot in assets now, identity theft could have a detrimental effect on their future.

Here are a few basic steps to check if you have been affected by a breach:

  • Use to see if your email address has been involved in a breach
  • Check your credit score and look for any unusual history
  • Look over bank statements regularly for unusual activity

breaking down the info exposed in a data breach

The odds of having some information exposed in a data breach seem to only be increasing with time. In recent years, everything from email addresses to birth certificates have been exposed by data breaches. The institutions that keep our data should be doing everything they can to protect it, but ultimately the fallout hurts people as individuals. If your identity is stolen, your credit will likely take a hit. This can have a huge impact on your life, from denial of loans to housing. Fortunately, there are ways to get your credit back on track. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself and keep your finances safe. Be careful with how you share data, check periodically to see if your information has been exposed and if it has, secure it as quickly as possible. Freezing your credit is one option to consider if you find you’re a victim of identify theft or at high risk for identify theft.