One in four Americans (25 percent) fell victim to information security breaches in the past year, according to a new survey from the AICPA conducted by Harris Poll. This statistic represents more than double the number of people (11 percent) who reported being victimized in a similar survey taken just over a year ago. 

These incidents, which can have consequences on the victims’ finances and credit scores, are shifting Americans purchasing decisions and shopping habits, both online and off. The telephone phone survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted in March as part of the AICPA’s education outreach for National Financial Capability Month.

The survey results showed no bias regardless of age group or online activity. The survey showed that 34 percent of adults aged 55-64 fell victim to information security breaches in the last year, compared to the 22 percent of Millennials who are typically seen as being the most active age group on digital communications platforms among adults.

According to the survey, one in five Americans (20 percent) said identity theft has negatively affected their credit score. Additionally, one in four Americans (26 percent) reported that their credit score prevented them from doing at least one thing in the past year, including obtaining a personal loan, a credit card, or a mortgage. Eight percent reported they were prevented from renting an apartment and five percent were unable to land a job because of their credit score.

The survey also found that 86 percent of adults reported some concern in businesses’ ability to safeguard customers’ financial and other personal information, with a majority (51 percent) saying they are “extremely concerned” or “very concerned.” The latter figure is up from 39 percent a year ago. Fewer Millennials (42 percent) reported being extremely concerned or very concerned about businesses’ abilities to protect their data, less than any other age group surveyed.

“The increase in data breaches affecting personal information has given consumers significant cause to be cautious about their activities, both online and off,” stated Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Data breaches have the potential to seriously affect consumers’ finances and wreak havoc on their credit scores. The good news is that we are seeing Americans taking steps to safeguard their information and reduce their susceptibility to these attacks.”

The survey also found more than four-in-five (82 percent) Americans are shifting their purchasing behavior in the wake of increased cyber-attacks, a 13 percentage point increase (69 percent) from a year ago. Fifty-six percent said they are now using more cash and/or checks for purchases and 40 percent have reduced their online presence—including turning off social media accounts or visiting fewer websites. In comparison, only 34 percent of Millennials have reduced their online presence in the wake of increase information security breaches, the least of any age group.

The AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offers the following tips for keeping your financial information safe and protecting yourself against personal information security breaches:

  • Be Proactive: Reach out to your bank and credit card companies and ask what safeguards they have available, including fraud alerts and purchase limits. Many companies have these features available, but you may have to opt in.
  • Avoid Shopping Using a Public Wi-Fi Connection: It’s generally a bad idea to transmit any personal data on a connection that isn’t secure – including those in coffee shops and public places. An unsecure connection means hackers may be able to gain access to any personal information you share with the retailer and use it to make unauthorized purchases.
  • Secure Your Credit Cards: Make a list of all of your credit cards (including account numbers and emergency phone numbers of each issuer). Secure this information in a safe place. When you use your credit card in a restaurant or store, don’t let it leave your sight.
  • Avoid Clicking on Unknown Email Links: Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or social media sites, even if they purport to be from trustworthy retailers, because they may take you to sites that are trying to collect information for identity theft. Instead, type the organization’s website address into your browser’s address bar or find it through a search.
  • Follow up Quickly: If your financial information has been compromised in any way, ask each credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. If your wallet or personal identification is stolen, immediately notify the police, your credit card providers, your bank and the three major credit reporting bureaus.

For more financial tips, head to the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy site here