With just a few details, criminals can do much more than run up the balances on your credit cards.
The recent massive data breach at Anthem, a major health insurance conglomerate, should focus your attention once again on the threat of identity theft. Most previous intrusions targeted credit card numbers. But names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers were stolen from Anthem, affecting over 80 million people.
Banks, credit bureaus, healthcare providers, the IRS, and others use that information to confirm your identity. With your full name, Social Security number, and birth date, criminals have everything they need to claim to be you.
That’s why such information can be sold for far more than a credit card number. If your identity is stolen, everything is at risk. Fixing the problem can take years, creating a lot of aggravation, paperwork, and financial losses.
Can you protect yourself against this risk? Not completely, but you can minimize the risk by taking these suggestions very seriously:
- Don’t provide birth dates and Social Security numbers casually – Ask why it’s needed and how it will be used. Opt out whenever possible.
- Don’t carry Social Security numbers – Your birth date is on your driver’s license, but you don’t need to carry your Social Security or Medicare card all of the time.
- Keep personal information from unknown parties – Unless you make the contact, either by phone, mail, or online, keep your information to yourself.
- Be careful with outgoing mail – Never send mail containing your personal identification information from an unsecured mailbox. Use the Post Office.
- Secure identification documents at home and work – Keep birth certificates, Social Security cards, and other I.D. info in a hidden lockbox.
- Never post identity information in public – Many internet venues like Facebook suggest that you post your birth date and other personal information. Don’t do it.
- Protect data storage devices with strong passwords – Desktop PCs, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones often store sensitive information.
- Use security software on all personal computers – Install and enable secure firewalls, virus scanners, and malware blockers, and keep them up-to-date.
- Get an identity protection PIN from the IRS – Ask your accounting and tax professional to assist you with this. It can help prevent tax refund theft.
- Monitor accounts regularly – Keep a close watch on bank, credit card, and other financial accounts. Change passwords frequently and watch for unauthorized activities. Take action immediately if you spot any discrepancies or questionable activity.
If Your Information Might Have Been Compromised, Act Quickly
If news about a major data theft from an organization or company might affect you, make contact with the organization immediately and take advantage of the protective services they are offering.
You can also freeze accounts with credit bureaus and take steps with financial institutions to prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts or accessing your existing ones.
If the worst happens and your identity is stolen, or if you simply want to talk further about safeguarding your identity, contact us. We can help you take the steps necessary to restore the good financial profile that you’ve established over the years.