The dollar amounts keep going up year after year with no end in sight. Theft of personally identifiable information (PII) reached an all-time high of 16.7 million U.S. victims in 2017, an 8% increase from 2016. That amounted to $16 billion worth of stolen data. Hackers have our PII in their cross hairs knowing there’s a payoff when it’s sold. It’s hard to forget the Equifax data breach last year where almost 50% of Americans had their PII breached. Ouch. The Dark Web welcomes the sale of PII on its websites, an easy way to cash-out. Selling hacked Social Security Numbers (SSN), financial data and more drives the PII market and hackers are getting better and better at stealing our personal data. Safeguarding your PII should be common practice, but hackers know it’s not. A look at PII “hot spots” and how to avoid being burned is a reminder we can all use.

Any PII is valuable; from Facebook and Twitter accounts to that fun little app you just downloaded. PII collection is big business, whether stolen by hackers or sold to advertisers. The “fullz” (complete PII rundowns including SSN, driver’s license, date of birth, and financial data) are sold online for about $250. That PII gives criminals the data they need to apply for mortgages, credit cards, loans, and more in your name. Vigilance and attention to detail are everyday necessities for users in the age of PII theft.

  • Pay attention to the data websites ask to collect. Take the time to review each request and decide if you want to give the PII they’re asking for. A healthy dose of suspicion is a necessary, especially when children are online as well. Always monitor the apps, games and sites they frequent. Be there to check the PII they’re being asked to disclose.
  • Use enhanced privacy settings on social media and elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to investigate PII security options that not only protect your postings but also offer additional services like data encryption and multi-level verification for passwords, especially for banking websites and online purchases.
  • Keep your passwords private. Get creative by using unique phrases, which are actually more difficult to hack than most passwords. If you write them down, be aware of where you keep it – somewhere away from your computer. Password managers are an investment some may feel safer using. They help create and retrieve complex passwords that are often encrypted and difficult to hack. However, beware that if the password manager site gets hacked (as LastPass and OneLogin have), whoever got in there, potentially has all of your passwords.
  • Don’t succumb to click bait. Never click links or open emails from unknown senders, especially those offers sounding too good to be true or focus on an urgent response from you. Some phishing emails are very slick, often duplicating websites you’re familiar and comfortable with. Once your trust is gained, requesting your passwords and account numbers is next. Many email links and pop-ups are laced with malware opening the door to system viruses. Be suspicious, be very suspicious.
  • Keep on top of the latest scams. Read about the new hacks and scams currently going on. Hacking is constantly evolving and staying informed is a great way to help keep your PII safe.