Have you noticed in the news lately that there is an increasing risk to having your personal identifiable information stolen by hackers? Retailers such as Target, Michael’s, eBay and, most recently, Lowe’s have all reported incidents.
According to a report in SC Magazine, officials from Lowe’s notified about 35,000 current and former employees that on May 19, their personal information, including social security numbers, was inadvertently backed up to an unsecured computer by a third-party vendor and made accessible via the Internet between July 2013 and April 2014. The vendor blocked access to the data and initiated an investigation upon learning of the issue. As was the case with Target, the vulnerability that the hackers exploited was not within the retailer’s span of control but rather within a third party’s domain of responsibility.
The key point is clearly stated in the old adage that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
Armed with the lessons learned from current events, what is an individual to do to protect their identity? Aside from reverting to pure cash transactions and assuming the risk associated with carrying large amounts of cash on your person, take these steps:
1. Monitor your financial identity. Subscribe to a service that will allow you to monitor transactions in which your identity could be used to create financial accounts. Organizations such as the three credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion and Equifax) all offer subscription services that will alert you to new accounts being opened or to suspicious transactions. Providers such as FreeCreditReport.com or MyFico.com also offer services through which text messages can be sent to your phone the moment a change occurs on your credit report. The benefit of this service is that it will allow you to respond quickly and close accounts or report problems.
2. Monitor your healthcare identity. A relatively new area of risks for consumers today is the loss of their personal identifiable information through theft of their healthcare records. The U.S. Affordable Care Act, through the financial incentives of “meaningful use,” have resulted in a large migration of patients’ medical information from paper charts to electronic medical records. Identity theft bandits have been known to steal medical information and use it to submit fraudulent insurance claims for large cash payouts. If your insurance provider offers an online claims monitoring service, opting in to this service can afford you some additional peace of mind.
3. Identity theft protection: Review your credit card features and educate yourself on the availability of identity theft protection and the coverage limits available through your credit card provider. Consider utilizing only the credit cards that offer you identity theft coverage, and be aware of your reporting obligations and any deductibles that may be in place.
We should not live in fear but instead should live our lives as we want and utilize all of the great features associated with modern technology. That said, we must also educate ourselves on the risks and measures we can take to protect ourselves. Assuming you already utilize safe online practices, the next step is to protect yourself from the mistakes of others. Having a system for monitoring and responding to red flags of identity theft can significantly diminish your risk of being a victim of this modern-day challenge.
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