Thanks to the credit reporting agency Equifax, many Americans, who previously were unconcerned about their personal data, now have their eyes opened to the devastation that a cyberattack makes possible. The recent massive security breach exposed the personally identifiable information of more than 143 million Americans, including social security numbers, birth dates and home addresses, earning non-stop national headlines. These data elements give hackers all the tools they need to succeed in identity theft to perpetrate other serious crimes.
Drivers license numbers, credit card numbers and credit dispute documents were also breached. The catastrophic nature of the situation and public outcry is leading many consumers to ask what they can do to protect themselves, and prevent unauthorized use of their information.
Credit creates a data paper trail.
Credit card companies and lenders lure consumers in with promises of rewards, low interest rates and convenience. But the truth is, when you sign up and use credit, you’re giving these companies the keys to a treasure trove of personal data. Not only do they have access to nuts-and-bolts information, like address, email and social security number, but they gain a private view into your spending habits. So when a breach at one of these companies occurs, becoming a victim of identity greatly increases.
Identity theft hits an all-time high.
Having your identity stolen isn’t just a hassle; it can lead to devastating financial consequences. With the right information, hackers can:
- Empty your bank accounts
- Obtain credit in your name
- Max out your credit cards
- Get a job in your name
- Apply for government benefits in your name
- File a false tax return
- Sell your identity to make money
Cash may be your best defense.
Buying with cash significantly wipes out these threats. It’s the easiest way to protect yourself from identity theft, especially with small and quick purchases at convenience and grocery stores and restaurants.
Make it a habit to have cash on hand at all times. Set a minimum purchase amount for credit so you know which purchases to make in cash versus credit. For example, you might choose to use cash for all purchases under $50.
At the end of the day, remember that using cash and limiting credit cuts down your risk of identity theft.
Take control of your money and improve your life.
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