Not getting murdered. Only 18% of Americans are scared of that.
Not sexual assault. That's also 18%.
Not terrorism. Terrorism worries only 28% of Americans.
Not having your car or home broken into--only 42% and 45% of people are concerned of those crimes (respectively).
No, the fear factor of these vicious crimes doesn't get even close to two crime categories: credit card and smart phone/computer hacking. According to the recent Gallup poll Crime Worries in the US--
-- As the list of major U.S. retailers hit by credit card hackers continues to grow this year, Americans are more likely to worry about having credit card information they used in stores stolen by computer hackers than any other crime they are asked about. Sixty-nine percent of Americans report they frequently or occasionally worry about this happening to them. Having a computer or smartphone hacked (62%) is the only other crime that worries the majority of Americans.
While all those worries are colored by the news we see on TV (I'll bet that the fear of terrorism was much more of a concern 13 years ago) threat presented by cyber crimes is real. Of course, the threat of stolen data is not that you will be held liable for unauthorized charges; the most you can be held responsible for is $50; and, besides, better credit cards will waive even that liability.
The Real Danger
The real danger here is identity theft. Thieves sell stolen data on an open market (you would be amazed how open this market is), and if they get enough pieces of information about you, they can inflict real damage. They could obtain a loan in your name, insurance to cover a medical procedure; worse yet, they can impersonate you while being arrested by the police, leaving you to fend off the charges. If you remember the movie Identity Thief with Jason Bateman, that really can happen. And by that, I mean the first part of the movie, not a thief "seeing the light".
Refrain from Storing Your Credit Card Online
The important thing to understand is that nothing is foolproof. Having said that, there are things you can do to protect yourself, although it might slow down your busy lifestyle, sometimes. Do not take stores' claims that "your information is safe and secure with them" seriously. That's baloney! The chances of your info getting hacked will be reduced considerably if you do not keep your credit card info on file with them. However, like I said, it will slow you down every time you make a purchase.
Facebook as a Treasure Chest for Identity Thieves
Data thieves know where to look for missing pieces. Finding your date of birth--which is a very important piece of information for opening a credit card in your name--sis as easy as finding you on Facebook. As a matter of fact, Facebook with its lax security measures is a treasure chest for identity thieves. And the date of birth is not the only crucial piece of information you shouldn't disclose. Your mother's maiden name appears among security questions on the Facebook application page. What should you do to protect yourself on Facebook? An innocent white lie has yet to hurt anyone.
Monitor Your Credit Activities
If you become an identity theft victim, the timing is crucial. The faster you discover the problem, the more swiftly you can react. There is a plethora of paid credit monitoring solutions, but there are also two free services that can do the same or almost the same job for free: Credit Karma and Credit Sesame. Subscribe to these services, and you will know if bad things happen. When you see a credit card or a loan that you can't recognize, report them to credit bureaus and, perhaps, the police immediately. Downside? Everyone can be hacked; and those two services are no different. Still, I would (and did) take this risk.
Should You Be Afraid?
No! You should be aware, not afraid. Even with mind-blowing data breaches having occurred recently, the number of resulting identity thefts has been very limited. High publicity is an enemy of data thieves. The more highlighted the crime is, and the more time has passed since the crime occurred--the more difficult it is for a thief to sell their data. A paper from the Carnegie University research team (although published in 2008 and thus slightly outdated) claims that "the probability of becoming a victim to identity theft as a result of a data breach is very low, around only 2%". So don't cut your credit card, just yet!
This is a post by Andy Shuman, a credit and travel expert who blogs at www.Lazytravelers.net. He writes and blogs during and between trips that he enjoys free of charge mostly due to creative use of credit card offers. He believes that credit cards are much more than just a convenient way to pay for a purchase, and that the benefits of responsible credit habits can go far beyond getting the best rates for loans and mortgages.
Andy is the author of bestselling books from Lazy Traveler Handbook Series available on Amazon. When he's not traveling, he lives with his beautiful wife and daughter in Brooklyn, NY.
Questions? Suggestions? Keep them coming!
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