If the Equifax data breach has taught Americans anything, it’s that even the institutions trusted with protecting consumers’ most personal data are not doing enough to safeguard it.
Equifax, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies in the country, revealed in September that the company was the victim of a massive hack. The personal info of as many as 145.5 million Americans may have been compromised, the company said. However, that’s still just an estimate — even more Americans could have been impacted and not know it for years.
Is consumer protection finally getting the attention it deserves?
While no heads have rolled, lawmakers have significantly turned up the scrutiny on the credit bureaus and how they handle consumers’ confidential information.
The data breach has raised some important questions about cybersecurity and how best to safeguard our information. Namely, are consumers doing enough to protect themselves? Also, are some Americans more susceptible to cybercrime based on where they live?
A new analysis by finance website WalletHub has identified the states most vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. The research is based on several key metrics compiled by Wallethub, including an overall score (far left) and a total score, followed by ranks that take into account instances of identity theft and fraud per capita. The number to the far right ranks states’ policies related to identity theft and fraud.
States most vulnerable to identity theft & fraud
|Overall Rank*||State||Total Score||‘Identity Theft’ Rank||‘Fraud’ Rank||‘Policy’ Rank|
|3||District of Columbia||67.66||9||6||10|
The issue of cybersecurity is a hot-button topic in Washington. Just this week, lawmakers from the Senate Banking Committee tore into a trade association representative of the consumer data industry.
“Your clients basically take my data — personal information about me — without my permission and as a business model they sell it to businesses. I am not compensated,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said to Andrew Smith, of the Consumer Data Industry Association, political website TheHill.com reports.
“If they lose my data as Equifax did, or if someone submits to them data that is an error that undermines my credit score, the bureaus have no obligation or interest right now to work with me to try to get the credit score correct,” Kennedy was quoted as saying.
The WalletHub data shows that states have become more susceptible than ever to identity theft and credit score manipulation.
The survey reveals some interesting numbers related to identity fraud as well. Washington, D.C. and Florida were tied for first in the most fraud complaints per capita, followed by Georgia. Michigan and Texas rounded out the top five.
North Dakota and South Dakota finished first and second in states with the least fraud complaints per capita, followed by Iowa, Alaska and Hawaii.
How to protect your personal information
Money expert Clark Howard says that the No. 1 way to protect yourself from identity fraud is by freezing your credit. But one of the main questions consumers want to know is what are the steps involved in freezing their credit.
The first thing you need to do is contact Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, the three main credit agencies. They can be reached online or by mail. There is a modest fee associated with freezing your credit, ranging from $3 to $10 per person per bureau (in some states, it may be a bit more), but it’s a relatively small price to pay when you think about what it would cost you if your identity were stolen.