BUSINESS

Threat of hackers and identity theft growing, costing U.S. at least $25 billion per year

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NEW YORK (ABC NEWS) - The threat from hackers is growing.

A new report provided exclusively to ABC News highlights evidence that just about everyone is at increased risk for identity theft.

The study, released by the New York State Attorney's Office, examined data breaches in New York over eight years, showing the number of hacking cases spiked from 34 in 2006 to more than 400 per year since 2011 - a more than 100-fold increase.

"I think there is no question that the problem is getting bigger, it is expanding," said Ray Kelly, who is the president of risk management at Cushman and Wakefield and an ABC News consultant.

In 2013 security breaches exposed the personal records of more than 7
million people.

"Consumers have to take steps to protect themselves, because it's happening all over the country,:" said Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York.

Retailers and their customers are the top victims, as evidenced by the massive hacking at Target last year, as well as other major breaches at Michael's and eBay.

"It is a major problem that will only increase in complexity and expense," added Kelly.

One estimate finds that data breaches cost the U.S. nearly $25 billion, just in 2012, and that hackers are hitting progressively bigger targets, with five of the 10 largest hacks in history reported just within the last three years.

Experts say defending against skilled cyber-criminals certainly isn't easy. Some of your best bets are pretty obvious things such as checking your credit and debit accounts often, and changing your passwords regularly.

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