70 million Americans report stolen data

Many consumers say their problems started with banks and brick-and-mortar stores—not online retailers

Published: May 07, 2015 12:00 PM

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More than 70 million American adults discovered that their personal information had been compromised in 2014, according to projections from a recent nationally representative survey of more than 3,000 American adults, conducted by Consumer Reports.

While some of those incidents may have resulted from stolen credit cards or other crimes, many stemmed from data breaches. And, as a slew of widely reported breaches last year showed, not only online shoppers are at risk. According to Consumer Reports’s survey, 79% of those notified of a data breach were told by a brick-and-mortar store or a financial institution. Just eighteen percent said the problem originated with an online retailer.

Those findings are supported by research from the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), which found that a record high 783 data breaches occurred in 2014, up more than 27.5 percent from 2013. “Last year was an exceptional year because of the raw numbers and the traction they were getting in the media,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO/president of ITRC.

It’s important to protect your data from identity theft, whether you’ve been notified of a breach or not. That might sound obvious, but in the Consumer Reports survey, half of those who were affected by data theft said they did not change their online behavior afterward. Here are 10 simple steps you can take to lock down your sensitive info, and five things to do if you've been notified of a breach. You should also be sure to carefully check the “explanations of benefits” notices sent by your health insurance provider to make sure they’re for services you actually received and not something a medical identity thief ordered up, Velasquez says.

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The study arguably highlights the need for stronger consumer protections. Among the latest proposals in Congress is the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D, Vt.) that would cover not only financial data, but things like photos and videos stored in the cloud. It would also require companies to notify consumers of a breach within 30 days. "This measure, as well as another bill introduced by Senator Nelson (D, Fla.) will move the ball forward on better data protection for consumers," says Ellen Bloom, Senior Director of Federal Policy and the Washington Office for Consumers Union, the advocacy branch of Consumer Reports. "Congress needs to set strong federal standards for defending consumer data while allowing states to enact or maintain more stringent laws if necessary to protect their residents."

—Donna Tapellini

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