Personal Finance

41 million Americans have had their identities stolen

41M Americans already the victim of identity theft
41M Americans already the victim of identity theft

Many Americans are dangerously at risk of being victims of credit card fraud and as many as 41 million U.S. adults have already had their identity stolen, according to a survey of 1,000 adults conducted last month.

Another 49 million know someone who has been affected, the research found.

"About 2 in 5 Americans have either been an identity theft victim or know someone who has," said analyst Mike Cetera. "This is a widespread problem and many people aren't doing enough to protect themselves."

On the heels of the Yahoo data breach, which included an estimated 500 million accounts, it's clear that cyberattacks are far from over, despite the switch from traditional "swipe" cards to more secure chip cards.

Hacked credit card fraud will reach a record $4 billion this year as the window of opportunity narrows for hackers to cash in on stolen credit card data from magnetic strip cards, according to a separate study from global research and advisory firm Aite Group.

Still, nearly half, or 42 percent, of Americans do not regularly check their credit reports, while 36 percent conduct banking and other sensitive business on unsecured Wi-Fi networks, according to Bankrate. Over a quarter of those polled said their online account passwords are all or mostly the same.

Many people aren't doing enough to protect themselves.
Mike Cetera analyst

Julie Conroy, a research director covering fraud, data security and compliance issues at Aite Group, recommends regularly checking your credit and debit statements online to make sure all of those transactions are yours, and setting up alerts on large purchases, over $500 for example, or foreign transactions.

Cetera also advises consumers to avoid banking or shopping online on an unsecured network, like at a coffee shop, using different passwords for different accounts and requesting a credit freeze to prevent others from opening accounts in your name.

"A credit freeze at all times is probably not a bad idea," he said.