Consumers at Risk From Storing Sensitive Information Online

More than 40 percent of respondents to a recent LexisNexis Risk Solutions survey admitted they store tax returns, tax records and bank statements electronically.

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A significant number of American consumers store documents containing personally identifiable information such as name, address, date of birth, phone, email address, Social Security number and other information on email, cloud and similar services.

These were the findings of a LexisNexis Risk Solutions-sponsored survey of more than 1,000 consumers, which sought to uncover what kind of personal information people store, where they store it and how concerned they are for its safety.

More than 40 percent of respondents admitted they store tax returns, tax records and bank statements electronically, and more than a third (35 percent) said they store their medical health records.

In addition, 28 percent of respondents said they store student loan information and 24 percent store mortgage information electronically, according to the survey.

Even personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords are stored in the digital world, with more than 21 percent of respondents indicating this behavior. Eighteen percent said they store brokerage and retirement information.

Around a third of respondents said they store records containing personally identifiable information on popular email services such as Yahoo Mail, Gmail, AOL and Microsoft Outlook.

In addition, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) said they store similar information on cloud-based document storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive.

The report warned that because vulnerable—and lucrative—identity information is available in email and other electronic forms, hackers are using that information to fraudulently gain benefits from tax and health and human services programs.

The survey also indicated consumers’ reliance on electronic storage service could reflect the fact that two-thirds of respondents didn’t know that tax- or wage-related fraud was the No. 1 type of identity theft reported last year.

State-sponsored actors, organized criminal groups—foreign and domestic—and individual hackers increasingly are using stolen identity data to defraud consumers, the government and businesses.

In addition, the study inquired about consumers’ opinions regarding the government’s role in protecting such information, as well as their attitude regarding online fraud in government programs.

While approximately one-third of Americans (32 percent) think the government has been extremely or very effective in preventing hackers from using identity data to defraud government tax and benefits programs, a larger percentage (41 percent) believe the government has been only slightly effective (20 percent) or not effective at all (21 percent).

Respondents were somewhat more confident they would at least be notified when a potential breach from their email or cloud service occurred.

More than 66 percent said that they were very or somewhat confident they would be made aware of a potential hack.