Personal Finance

Stolen financial info worse than leaked nude pics: Survey

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Just how concerned are consumers with protecting their financial information?

A MasterCard survey released Thursday found that 55 percent of people would rather have nude pictures of them leaked online than have their financial information stolen. (Tweet This)

The research also found that more people would rather have their email accounts hacked—or even have their homes robbed.

Data security has become an increasingly large concern for consumers as several government agencies and companies have become victims of breaches.

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In May, the Internal Revenue Service said data for more than 100,000 taxpayers had been compromised. The data of approximately 280,000 AT&T customers also was exposed amid a series of breaches, the U.S. government said in April.

Individual consumers, however, are even more vulnerable to these attacks than companies, said J.J. Thompson, co-founder and CEO of Rook Security, an Indiana-based IT security firm.

"It's been pretty spotty for people trying to protect their [financial information]," he said. "People are being attacked every time they turn around."

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Thompson added that, while mobile and payment applications make it easier for consumers to move their money around, it also makes it easier for hackers and fraudsters to steal their financial information.

The fact that many consumers have multiple devices that are connected to their bank accounts or contain sensitive personal data also puts them at risk, said Chase Cunningham, threat intelligence lead at Firehost, a Texas-based cloud computing company.

"The whole goal of security is to minimize the entry access points for hackers to use," Cunningham said, adding that "I think this is going to get worse before it gets better."

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One more factor that may put many U.S. consumers at risk of financial fraud? "We're seeing [higher] breach and fraud activity due to the lack of chip-enabled credit cards," said Carolyn Balfany, group head for U.S. product delivery at MasterCard.

U.S. card issuers have begun phasing out credit cards with just a traditional magnetic stripe and replacing them with cards that also contain newer technology known as an EMV chip, which makes the cards nearly impossible to counterfeit. About 120 million EMV chip cards were issued in the U.S. as of the end of 2014, but that number is projected to reach nearly 600 million by the end of this year, according to Smart Card Alliance estimates.

Still, experts point out that while the chip can cut down on card cloning, thieves can still steal the credit card number and expiration date and use them online.

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There are measures consumers can take to protect themselves—starting with using more complicated passwords and different ones for different accounts.

While many say protecting their personal and financial information is a priority, about 46 percent of consumers admit they "rarely or never" change their financial accounts passwords and nearly 44 percent use the same password for multiple accounts, according to the MasterCard survey.

"The caveat here is that consumers are busy," said Robert Siciliano, CEO of, an identity security consulting firm.

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Still, taking simple steps like using multiple and unique passwords can go a long way toward helping consumers protect themselves, say experts.

Using a credit card instead of a debit card to make purchases online can also help as credit cards tend to have more comprehensive protections against fraud. Regularly checking bank accounts and credit card statements for any unusual activity is smart too.

Consumers should also keep a close eye on their credit reports. (You can order one copy of your credit report for free once every 12 months from the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—through

Another step consumers can take to mitigate their exposure is to avoid linking mobile payment applications directly to bank accounts, but joining them instead to their credit cards, Thompson of Rook Security said. Most of the major credit card providers will reimburse customers if they fall victim to fraud, he added.