1 billion data recordsFrom Home Depot and Staples to JP Morgan Chase and the United States Postal Service, it seems that we couldn’t escape the news of a new data breach in 2014. That’s because data breaches increased 49% last year, with more than 1 billion data records compromised (78% increase from 2013) in 1,500 attacks worldwide, according to digital security firm Gemalto. This means that 1,947 records were lost or stolen every minute last year.

In addition to these shocking numbers, the firm also found that cybercriminals mainly targeted data records to commit identity theft, given that 54% of the breaches involved the theft of personal data, compared to 23% in the previous year. Other categories for breaches included existential data, nuisance, account access and financial access. Most breaches were committed by malicious outsiders, malicious insiders or hacktivists. Some breaches were also a result of state-sponsored hacks or accidental loss.

Which industries and countries were breached last year?

Since the latest findings of the Breach Level Index are worldwide, Gemalto was able to provide a complete breakdown of which industries and countries were affected by breaches throughout the world. It’s no surprise that retail was the top industry, accounting for 55% of the breaches, with the financial industry taking the No. 2 spot with 20% of the breaches. Rounded out the list of industries were technology, education, government, healthcare and other. Another not-so-shocking detail was that North America had the largest amount of incidents, with a total of 1,164 incidents overall comprising 76% of the world’s breaches. These were broken down further as 1,107 incidents in the U.S. and 57 in Canada.

How does the exposure of 1 billion data records impact you?

Considering the U.S. was the leader in data breaches last year, it’s likely that your information was exposed in at least one of the leaks — with or without your knowledge. These numbers should should come as a wake-up call for consumers to start taking action to protect their personal information in every aspect of their lives.

What can you do to prevent your information from getting breached?

There’s no surefire way to prevent your information from getting breached, as it heavily depends on the security of the company, organization or agency you provide your information to. That being said, there are steps that you can take to make sure you’re doing your best to protect yourself.

1. Be proactive. Whenever we hear of a data breach, it’s easy to assume that your information was not leaked in the breach. Although this may be a good way to keep yourself calm, ignoring the breach will not protect your identity. In fact, not doing your research or taking any steps after the announcement of a breach is the worst thing you can do. Instead, you need to be proactive. This means setting strict privacy settings on your social media accounts, as well as checking your credit reports regularly to make sure no fraudulent accounts are opened in your name.

One of the best options for staying proactive with your identity is to sign up for an identity theft protection service. For less than $25/month, these services monitor your personal information on black market websites and public records to make sure it isn’t being sold, traded or used by identity thieves. In addition, all of the top-rated services keep you up-to-date with the activity on your credit reports by providing you with real-time alerts whenever something is changed or added to them. Some services, such a LifeLock Ultimate Plus, have realized the impact that breaches have on a person’s identity. With the hopes of warning customers sooner rather than later, it has implemented data breach alerts. And the best part is that most identity theft protection services offer some sort of free trial, which means you can test out the service commitment-free. Visit our identity theft protection reviews to see which services offer free trials and find the best service for your needs.

2. Report fraud as soon as you detect it. One of the easiest ways to see if your financial information has been breached or stolen is to monitor the activity of your bank accounts and credit cards. Instead of ignoring or trashing your monthly statement — you know you’ve done it, too — take time each month to open it and comb through all of the transactions. Look for any out of the ordinary or unrecognizable purchases or withdrawals. If you spot any, make sure you call your bank to inquire about these as soon as possible. Even a small amount should be reported as it can be a sign that your card has been stolen, which we saw after the Target breach.

3. Shred before you throw away. After you’ve verified all of the information on your statements is accurate, you should shred them before you throw them out. This should be the case with any document that contains your information, such as credit card offers, bills and even junk mail. A good rule of thumb for determining what needs to be shredded is if the document has at least your name and address on it, then you should destroy it. The best way to do this is to invest in a cross-cut shredder — which will cut the document into small, confetti-like pieces of paper — and make it your routine to shred everything before you put it in the trash.

4. Use strong passwords. Since all of our online identities are protected by usernames and passwords, it’s essential that you select a strong password. To fit the “strong” criteria, your password should contain a combination of six uppercase and lowercase letters, one number and one special character, such as a @ or &. But creating a strong password isn’t enough. You’ll also need to make sure you change your password at least twice per year to make sure no one has access if it’s leaked. The best way to remember when it’s time to change your password is to set an alarm on your phone or your calendar. Not sure where to start? Follow this step-by-step guide to creating a strong password to learn more.

5. Be skeptical and stay calm. If your information is exposed in a breach, you’ll likely be targeted for some sort of phone or email scam, similar to the victims of the Anthem breach. One of the best ways to avoid falling for a scam is to make sure you remain skeptical and calm. Be sure to ask a lot of questions — the scammers will likely avoid responding — and never provide personal information or click on any links in an email. If you think the person contacting you may be legitimate, hang up the phone and don’t click on anything in the email itself, and instead call the company this person is claiming to be from using a phone number from its business card or actual website. Check out this blog post to get more information on how you can avoid falling for a scam.

Want to learn more ways you can protect your identity? Visit our identity theft protection blog to get more tips and stay up-to-date on the most recent breaches.