Identity Theft continues to garner media attention, and rightfully so as new identity theft victims are added to the alarming totals daily, but little is actually done to stop a major root cause, the ineffective security of our confidential information. Citizens have heeded the call to protect themselves and have begun to shred documents, monitor their credit, protect their computers and enroll in identity theft protection services like LifeLock and TrustedID but the message from the media, law enforcement and Governments doesn’t seem to be getting through to those who are entrusted with the personal records of many. If the first quarter of 2008 is any indication then Americans should be prepared for the worst when it comes to identity theft because our personal and private records continue to be compromised at rates that will soon lead to the exposure of every single American. We have already documented many of the breaches from the first two months of the year so here is a quick summary from March which saw the exposure of 5.5 million Americans in 24 separate incidents.
- A Hacker obtained personal information on 10,000 students and applicants at Harvard University. 6,600 Social Security numbers (SSN’s) were included in this breach.
- Agilent Technologies lost the Social Security numbers, names, and financial information of 51,000 clients when a laptop was stolen.
- SSN’s, names, academic records and payroll documents of 70,000 employees at Antioch University were lost when a computer system was hacked.
- The Dental Network compromised the names, addresses, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of 75,000 members when they posted their details on a web site
- Software placed on servers at Hannaford illegally captured the credit card and debit card numbers of 4.2 million customers
- At Lasell College the names and Social Security numbers of 20,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni were accessed by a hacker
- A high school student in Broward County School District in Florida hacked a computer and compromised the names, addresses, phone numbers and SSN’s of over 38,000 employees
- A stolen laptop from University Health Care in Utah contained the names, Social Security numbers, and health information on 4,800 patients
- The names and Social Security numbers of 5,000 MTV Networks employees were exposed via a computer
- An employee stole a hard drive hard drive containing the records of 1,000,000 Compass Bank customers in Alabama. Though this incident happened in 2007 it was not reported till March 2008 as Alabama is one of 11 states that have not passed a law requiring the notification of citizens affected by a breach. According to Computer World the now convicted employee, with the help of his accomplice who was a teller, made 245 fake debit cards and proceeded to withdraw over $32,000 directly from bank accounts at ATM’s. Fortunately these in-experienced identity thieves failed to get money on 90% of their attempted withdrawals and drew the attention of an alert police officer resulting in their capture and conviction. The hard drive thief received a 42 month sentence while the teller who provided the hardware to encrypt the debit cards received an 18 month sentence that was later reduced to 1 month.
- A missing laptop at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York compromised the confidential records of an estimated 40,000 members.
- A computer virus at Cascade Healthcare Community exposed names, addresses and credit card information of more than 11,500 Americans.
- Lost backup tapes at BNY Mellon Shareowner Services compromised the names, Social Security numbers and possibly banking information of 3,500 clients.
- A “missing laptop” at Kraft Foods contains the names and possibly Social Security numbers of 20,000 employees.
Identity theft protection is now a necessary task that every American should consider implementing immediately. Even though 37 states have passed laws requiring affected citizens to be informed of any breach of their information the rate of data breaches has not slowed. It has gotten to the point where you have to assume that your confidential information has been exposed and it is up to you to take steps to protect your identity, your credit and your finances from identity fraud. Identity Theft Labs highly recommends the placing of fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus in addition to other identity protection measures you may have initiated.
You can do this for free if you are willing to do some initial legwork and are responsible enough to renew the fraud alert every 90 days. You will be giving up the value added services and financial insurance or service guarantee that an identity theft protection company provides but at least you will be getting the protection you deserve at a price that can’t be beat. For those who want the additional benefits, or don’t want the aggravation of renewing those fraud alerts we highly recommend you visit LifeLock or TrustedID as we have identified them as the leaders in identity theft protection. Remember that the most important thing is not how you choose to protect yourself but that you do in fact take some action towards protecting yourself and your loved ones from this potentially devastating crime. Be smart, stay safe, take action now.