Smart About Money: Protecting yourself from data breaches – why bother?

These big data breaches – like the recent Equifax hack – are very frustrating. Especially when they happen to huge companies that you’d think would have multiple layers of systems in place to protect themselves and their customers’ information.

And why did it have to be one of the credit reporting agencies that got hit, with their vast treasure trove of significant financial data on practically every adult in the country? A breach like that affects millions of people, as opposed to a retail store breach that’s certainly a hassle for the customers who shop there but not a concern if you don’t.

One day people will probably have more control over their information. One day there will probably be unhackable technology. Because problems like these usually get solved eventually. But we live in the here and now and – for the time being – these breaches will probably keep occurring on a regular basis.

Equifax most likely did have multiple systems in place. Unfortunately the hackers are relentless and they found a way in.

Here’s another frustrating thing about these breaches – especially the big ones like Equifax. When they occur, you can be sure we’re in for days or weeks of breathless news reports about all of the horrifying things that ‘could’ happen if your data was compromised.

The ‘could’ is important. In some ways it’s beginning to become a bit of a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ situation regarding damaging fallout from these data breaches.

Because while it is important to be vigilant – and I will get to that in a moment – the reality is that these breaches have been happening for years now and it is very rare for an individual to actually have a problem because of one.

People want to protect themselves. Of course! But if a major financial corporation like Equifax can’t protect itself, what can you hope to do on your own?

Actually, it turns out it’s easier for you to protect yourself than it was for Equifax.

For one thing, chances are your computer isn’t a direct target of international criminal hackers the way Equifax was. The hackers probably aren’t coming after you the way they go after corporate, medical and government databases.

Here are three easy and effective things that will go a long way toward protecting your information, your accounts and your peace of mind – if you do them:

First – Open every financial statement you get immediately and look for charges you don’t recognize. Some people never do this! But it only take a moment. Reviewing your statements lets you see that all is well. If there is a problem, you catch it early and keep a hacker from doing more damage. Especially since there are time limits for reporting unauthorized activity on your account/s.

Second – Review all three of your credit reports regularly – at least once a year and more often if you have specific concerns. You’re looking for accounts or information you don’t recognize. Most people also don’t do this. Be one of the ones who does.

Third – Contact the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and put a Credit Freeze on your account with each one. That should keep anyone from applying for new credit in your name.

Should you sign up for an annual fee protection service like LifeLock? Maybe. Some people feel it gives them another level of protection. If you’re not sure, talk to your banker or financial advisor to see if it’s a good idea for you.

And remember: Having an established relationship with a local bank and a local financial professional like a CPA can be a big plus if you’re concerned that your account/s or identity have been compromised. Being able to reach out directly to someone you know and trust can make a real difference if something bad has happened, when you’re worried and not sure what to do next.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. “Smart About Money” is a regular column he writes for the Canton Citizen. Have a financial question you’d like to ask? Email to


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