Identity Theft Is Rising At Alarming Rate, Research Finds

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"Identity Theft Is Rising At Alarming Rate, Research Finds"

Target store

CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

A growing number of Americans are becoming victims of data theft, according to a new Pew Research study released Monday.

As many as 18 percent of Americans reported having their personal data stolen, including credit card or banking information and Social Security Numbers. The study, which used data collected from over a 1,000 survey respondents earlier this year, shows how breaches have become more frequent. Compared to 2013, the percentage of breach victims saw a seven-point uptick. The number of hacked email and social media accounts was also high with more than one in five adults claiming their accounts were compromised — the same as last year.

The study comes in the wake of the Heartbleed bug discovered last week that left thousands of encrypted websites — up to 70 percent worldwide — vulnerable to hackers. The flaw was a part of the encryption coding that shields online traffic and went undiscovered for two years, exposing millions of passwords, credit card and other personal information. So far, there’s no indication that the bug was exploited by hackers but was known and used by the U.S. National Security Agency as a part of its government surveillance program.

Consumers have been hit hard by data breaches in recent years. Hacking makes up about a third of all breaches, according to analysis by the Open Security Foundation’s DataLoss DB. There were close to a billion personal records leaked in data breaches in 2013, more than half of which were from the five biggest breaches. Three of the top 10 breaches of all time — Target, Pinterest and Adobe — happened in 2013, exposing over 300 million email addresses, passwords, credit card and debit card numbers, RiskBased Security found in its February-released study.

The upside is that as these breaches become more common, more Internet users are taking steps to protect their identity online, Pew found in a different study, with measures such as clearing their browser history — and justifiably so. One in four people who’ve had their personal data stolen also suffer identity theft.

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