Data Breach vs. Identity Theft – Do you know the Difference?

The terms “data breach” and “identity theft” are unfortunately becoming a familiar part of our vocabulary these days, but do you know how the two are both different and often interconnected?

Some may think a data breach and identity theft is one and the same, but there are
distinct differences between the two. Here’s a closer look at each and how they could impact you:

A data breach is generally described as an incident involving the unauthorized or illegal viewing, access or retrieval of sensitive, protected or confidential data by an individual, application, or service. Such breaches are specifically intended to publish data to an unsecured or illegal location. Data breaches can occur either electronically or in paper format. Information that is typically the focus of a data breach includes individual names, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, intellectual property, trade secrets, passwords, medical records, and financial records, such as bank or credit card information.

Many experts believe that data breaches are occurring on a more frequent basis, whether it’s because of public pressure, the adoption of new laws calling for disclosure of breaches, or cyber thieves stepping up their activity. No matter what the reason, more personal and sensitive information is floating about in the cyber sphere than ever before.

Unfortunately, the loss of information as the result of a data breach can lead to a variety of online crimes such as identity theft, credit card fraud, and banking fraud. In the case of identity theft, a thief will use information such as a person’s Social Security number or credit card password to fraudulently pose as that individual. The results can be financially devastating; wiping out entire bank accounts, ringing up thousands of dollars in credit card expenses and a myriad of other destructive outcomes.

Breaches and the crimes that accompany them can wreak havoc not only on the customer, but also on the targeted companies and asset providers. This potential exposure is what prompts companies that have experienced a data breach to take corrective action to protect their customers; including the issuance of new credit or debit cards, the closing of exposed accounts, and opening of new accounts as a replacement. It can damage a firm’s productivity, reputation, and profitability; not to mention the possibility of facing fines, criminal or civil prosecution.

A report by Verizon security analysts titled “2015 Data Breach Investigations Report” shows that cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, while relying on long-popular techniques such as hacking and phishing. The document also reveals that many security patches that have been around for years have yet to be implemented.

As consumers, it’s almost impossible to predict or prevent a data breach from happening, but you do have some control over preventing identity theft. One effective way is to keep a close eye on credit card and bank statements. Have alerts sent to your phone or email address if a suspicious activity arises.  Immediately report any discrepancies to the proper contact, such as your bank or card provider’s fraud line or customer service center. Other preventive measures include keeping your Social Security number stationary, in a safe location (avoid carrying it with you), collecting mail promptly, and safeguarding PINs and passwords. In the end, the best protector of your personal and sensitive information is You.

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