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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The SBA Exposed 8,000 Loan Applicants’ Personal Data. Here’s How To Protect Yours

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) notified nearly 8,000 small-business owners that their personal information may have been exposed online.

The SBA is in charge of distributing billions of dollars to small-business owners who apply for federally backed loans to help weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency is overseeing multiple loan programs, including the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and its existing Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.

Here’s what small-business owners need to know about the data leak—and how they can safeguard their personal information in the future. 

Details on the SBA Data Leak

Small business owners seeking SBA Economic Injury 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 says it discovered the issue on March 25, immediately disabled the impacted portion of the site and notified affected applicants, as reported by CNBC. A total of nearly 8,000 applicants could have had their information exposed, according to the SBA. 

Business owners said in early April they noticed that other businesses’ information had already been filled in 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 is offering 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 issue for consumers—especially during the coronavirus crisis, when scammers are even more active, taking advantage of the widespread financial uncertainty. All consumers should be vigilant in protecting their personal data, including small business owners seeking funding from government or other sources online. 

Here are five ways to help prevent your data from being compromised, or to keep tabs on it after it’s been exposed:

Encrypt your data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends consumers encrypt their data while browsing the web. Many browsers, including Google Chrome, include encryption software that will “scramble” 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 it’s submitted.

Use security software. The FTC also recommends consumers install antivirus and antispyware software on their computers, plus a firewall on their computer or wireless network. These protections set up safeguards around your computer files and passwords to keep malicious software, or malware, from getting installed on your computer and stealing your sensitive information

Bank safely online. With many banks closed right now in an effort to prevent COVID-19 from continuing to spread, consumers are utilizing online banking. To bank safely online, avoid using public Wi-Fi to access your online banking accounts, as they can easily be hacked. Additionally, update your online mobile banking passwords regularly, and monitor your accounts by enrolling in account alerts for transfers, balance tracking, failed login attempts and more.

Monitor your credit. If you believe your personal information has been exposed or compromised, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on your credit report. Once criminals have your Social Security number, they could use it to open new financial accounts in your name. This could negatively affect your credit score and your ability to get credit in the future. Through 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 per year from each of the three major credit bureaus.

Check your credit report regularly to catch hard inquiries for these new accounts and take swift action to dispute potential fraud with the credit bureaus. If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, visit the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov page to report and take steps to recover from it.

Consider freezing your credit. After discovering your personal information has been compromised, you have the ability to freeze your credit, which means no new financial accounts 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 requesting a loan, like the small business owners applying for PPP or EIDL assistance. When your credit is frozen, you’ll need to request a temporary lift of the freeze in order to be considered for a new loan.

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