| June 1, 2015

Do Hackers Vet Victims Credit Scores Before They Steal Your Info?

No – but they can ruin your profile and score just the same.

Your credit can make or break your financial plan. After all, your credit score is the number lenders use to judge your character, your credit worthiness, and how financially responsible you are as a borrower. Your score also determines if you can get a mortgage, credit card, or new car and the interest rates you’ll pay on each debt. Even employers use your credit profile to make hiring decisions, so bad credit may potentially prevent you from getting your dream job.

Facing down a hacker's data breach

Of course the higher your credit score, the more favorable you appear. But does a high score mean you appear more favorably to hackers and ID thieves, too?

A poll of over 1000 U.S. adults, commissioned by Harris for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), found 20 percent of respondents fell victim to an identity theft that negatively affected their credit score. Twenty six percent – 1 in 4 – say their credit score prevented them from obtaining a personal loan, a credit card, or a mortgage, renting an apartment or a job in the past year.

Unfortunately as the convenience of technology and mobile applications makes it easier to do things like bank and shop online, it also increases the potential for ID theft. In 2013, 11 percent of Americans were victims of information security breaches. In 2014 that number more than doubled to 25 percent. Considering the string of cyber-attacks that ravaged many retail giants last year, the results of this survey aren’t surprising. 

Hackers hack regardless of demographic, geographic location or credit score

While lenders care about your score when it comes to borrowing, data from this study shows hackers are willing to steal your identity regardless of whether your score is good, average or excellent – anyone with an active credit or debit card is vulnerable. Those who fall victim most often according to the Harris poll are 55-64 year old adults even though millennials have a more active presence online – 34 percent of 55-64 year olds had their information breached compared to 22 percent of those aged 18-34.

How so? One of the reasons could be the unique challenges older adults face in adopting new technology safely – doing things such as, neglecting to set security preferences or following risky practices like failing to closely monitor their accounts online, not password-protecting their devices and using the same passwords for all their accounts. 

In the wake of the cyber-attacks, 82 percent poll respondents are shifting the way they shop in order to safeguard their information. Many are using cash and/or checks more often for purchases; reducing their online presence – including turning off social media accounts or visiting fewer websites. 

Although you may not be able to prevent big retail chain data breaches, there are steps you can take to protect your information on your own. The AICPA says:

  • Ask your lender if they offer safeguards: Find out from your bank and credit card companies whether they have any safeguards like fraud alerts and purchase limits available. You may have to opt in to use added security features like these.
  • Avoid shopping on public Wi-Fi. In this age of technology, there is a need to connect every second of everyday and often when we find an unlocked network it feels like we’ve just hit the jackpot, but transmitting personal data on an unsecured network in public places like coffee shops, can leave you vulnerable to hackers. An unsecure connection means hackers may be able to gain access to any personal information you share with the retailer and use it to make unauthorized purchases.
  • Keep credit cards secure at all times. Secure your credit cards (including account numbers and emergency phone numbers of each issuer) and store this information in a safe place. When used at a restaurant, make sure that it’s always in your possession. 
  • Do not open Emails you do not know: Crooks use all kinds of tactics to get your info. They can craft emails to look legit. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or social media sites, even if they purport to be from trustworthy retailers. Clicking on these links may take you to sites that are trying to collect information for identity theft. Instead, type the organization’s website address into your browser’s address bar or find it through a search.
  • Contact financial institution and credit bureau immediately. If your wallet or personal identification is stolen, notify the police, your credit card providers, your bank and the three major credit reporting bureaus at once. Ask each credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. 

Remember hackers do not discriminate. Regardless of your age, gender and credit score, thieves want your information and are lurking to get it. If they put their cyber hands on it, they can take credit in your name, go on a shopping spree, and of course leaving bills unpaid and wreaking havoc on your credit score as a result. The onus is on you to take steps in ensuring that your information is not easy to obtain. If you’ve been a victim or just need help in ensuring that you do not fall prey, check out our identity theft section or request help by calling or signing up online.

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