The SBA exposed the personal data of 8,000 loan applicants. Here’s how to protect yours
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) on Tuesday notified nearly 8,000 small business owners that their personal information may have been exposed online.
The SBA is responsible for handing out billions of dollars to small business owners applying for federally guaranteed loans to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency oversees several loan programs, including the new Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) and its existing Economic Disaster Lending Program (EIDL).
Here’s what small business owners need to know about data breach and how they can protect their personal information in the future.
SBA data leak details
Small business owners seeking SBA economic disaster loans in March may have had their personal information exposed to other applicants due to a glitch in the online application system.
The SBA said it discovered the problem on March 25, immediately deactivated the affected part of the site and notified affected applicants, as reported by CNBC. In total, nearly 8,000 applicants could have seen their information exposed, according to the SBA.
Business owners said in early April that they noticed other businesses’ information had already been filled out on the SBA’s loan registration page, including addresses, social security numbers, phone numbers, and email addresses, as first reported by CBS News.
The SBA offers a year of free credit monitoring to small business owners whose information may have been compromised.
How to protect your data online
Online exposure of personal data is a growing problem for consumers, especially during the coronavirus crisis, when crooks are even more active, taking advantage of widespread financial uncertainty. All consumers should be vigilant about protecting their personal data, including small business owners who seek funding from government or other online sources.
Here are five ways to prevent your data from being compromised or to monitor it once it has been exposed:
Encrypt your data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends consumers encrypt their data when they browse the web. Many browsers, including Google Chrome, include encryption software that “scrambles” any information you send over the Internet. The FTC also recommends looking for a lock icon next to the URL in your internet browser, which means your information will be safe when submitted.
Use security software. The FTC also recommends that consumers install antivirus and antispyware software on their computers, as well as a firewall on their computer or wireless network. These protections put safeguards in place around your computer’s files and passwords to prevent malware or malware from entering your computer and stealing your sensitive information.
Safe online banking. With many banks closed right now in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, consumers are using online banking. AT safe online banking, avoid using public Wi-Fi to access your online bank accounts, as they can easily be hacked. Plus, regularly update your online mobile banking passwords and monitor your accounts by signing up for account alerts for transfers, balance tracking, failed login attempts and more.
Monitor your credit. If you believe that your personal information has been exposed or compromised, it is essential to keep a close eye on your credit report. Once criminals have your Social Security number, they can use it to open new financial accounts in your name. It could negatively affect your credit rating and your ability to obtain credit in the future. Until April 2021, consumers can check their credit reports weekly for free via AnnualCreditReport.com. Previously, consumers could only check their credit report for free once a year with each of the three major credit bureaus.
Check your credit report regularly to catch difficult investigations for these new accounts and take swift action to dispute potential fraud with the credit bureaus. If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, go to the FTC website IdentityTheft.gov page to report and take action to recover from it.
Consider freezing your credit. After discovering that your personal information has been compromised, you have the option of freeze your credit, which means that no new financial account can be opened in your name. This is a good option for consumers who need to take extra precautions after a data breach, but it won’t necessarily help those who are in the process of applying for a loan, such as small business owners seeking PPP assistance or EIDL. When your credit is frozen, you will need to request a temporary lifting of the freeze in order to be considered for a new loan.