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Security Breaches Lead To Increase In Identity Theft

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Several massive security breaches in the past few years have exposed the personal information of millions of consumers.

Cybersecurity experts say that data can give criminals the info they need to steal your identity and open up accounts in your name.

Tara Nicolson learned this first hand. She was home on maternity leave when she figured out something might be wrong. A voicemail from a representative from Capital One's application team was her first clue that she was the victim of identity theft. She immediately contacted an identity protection company for help.

"They discovered 17 inquiries into my credit," she said. "They were trying to open credit cards and accounts in my name."

Nicolson's uncle, Adam Levin, is the founder of CyberScout which deals with identity management and data risk management. There are many ways hackers can steal identities, but Levin suspects Nicolson's was grabbed through the Equifax breach which exposed millions social security numbers.

"Once you have that, combined with other information about a person, you can do pretty much everything you want to do in terms of compromising their identity," said Levin.

To protect yourself, Levin suggests contacting the three big credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - and asking that they freeze your credit son no one can open an account under your name.

Another thing you can do is not overshare on social media. Hackers can use the details to recreate your identity. Also, always check for and perform security updates on your cell phone.

Levin said for hackers, every consumer is a potential target.

"The only reason why you haven't become a victim of identity theft yet is because they haven't gotten around to you," he said.

Last year's Equifax security breach exposed the personal information of more than 140 million consumers. Earlier this month the company revealed an additional 2 million consumers also had their data exposed.

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