Question – Why am I sitting around thinking about identity theft on a cold, winter morning?
Me – That is a good question. Probably because you have been talking about this topic with clients recently.
Q – Yeah, but why?
M – Because it is a serious issue and one that we can somewhat mitigate the dangers.
Q – You’re going to have to explain why.
M – Fair enough. Let’s look at some quick data from last year. In one case, 300 million customer and service device records were stolen from a company that is supposed to “shield internet traffic from prying eyes.” Nearly 18 million profiles were stolen from a market research company in another hack. Finally, 59 million email addresses and other personal information were grabbed from another company. Overall, 2021 was a record year for data breaches.
Q – That does not sound good. Thankfully there was no repeat of Equifax last year.
A – Yeah, that was awful. 147 million people had their personal information exposed in that breach a few years back. The article I wrote on that is the most shared one I have ever done. No surprise there.
Q – Why don’t companies do a better job at protecting our data?
A – That’s a good question. I am sure there are many that do. However, a couple of points. First, this data has a tremendous value to it, especially for people wanting to sell and abuse it. Next, it is cheaper to do the bare minimum and ask for forgiveness.
Q – I get the comment about the value, but what do you mean cheaper to do the bare minimum?
A – Corporate losses from a data breach run around $200,000. It is often cheaper for a company to deal with the aftermath of a loss than pay for the prevention.
Q – This conversation of prevention vs cure seems like a rabbit hole we may not want to go down.
A – I agree. How about we shift the focus?
Q – To what?
A – Things within our control.
Q – I like how you think.
A – The expression about putting the toothpaste back in the tube seems appropriate here. Let’s go worse-case scenario here and assume our information is out there.
Q – That’s depressing, but probably accurate.
A – Sadly, I have heard this from a few people who live in this world that is the assumption to take. Do you want some simple tips to help protect this information of yours that is out there?
Q – Yes!
A – A simple and effective thing to do is to freeze your credit.
Q – What?
A – This simply means to contact the three main credit reporting agencies out there and lock down your credit. Let’s assume someone is out there trying to open some credit cards in your name. As part of the verification process, they check your credit scores with the credit agencies. However, if they cannot verify your credit scores because they are frozen then no new credit cards can be opened.
Q – Sounds like a pain.
A – It really is not. I did it when Equifax hit. Since then we have refinanced and bought a car. When those two things were going on we temporarily lifted our credit freezes. It is quite simple and effective. Here’s an article you may want to check out on freezing credit.
Q – Okay, there is freezing credit scores. What else can I do?
A – I wish I could advise you to keep your identity from being stolen in the first place, but again, this is outside of your control. Instead, some other simple things are to sign up for free accounts at CreditKarma, checking your credit reports annually, not putting outgoing checks in your mailbox at the street, shredding documents at home, and setting up alerts with your bank accounts to notify you for “unusual/high” charges. My one favorite tip – STOP putting your birthday on your social media profiles, like LinkedIn or Facebook.
Q – Alright, solid and rather simple tips. Is this really serious enough I should be doing this?
A – In my opinion it is. As I mentioned, I have been talking to my clients about this for some time. While we can’t control what companies do with our information, we can at least take some effective steps to help keep our information that is out there from being abused.
Q – I promise to do better. Any last thoughts?
A – We are all going to pay for last year’s record setting data breaches. There are estimates the unemployment fraud will be as high as $200 billion. Sadly, all taxpayers get to pay for those losses. Those things are out of our control, but at least we can minimize some personal abuses by doing things like freezing credit and being a little more proactive with actions such as setting up alerts on bank accounts.
Q – And I will take down my birthday from my social media sites. I promise!
A – Perfect. I am now going to shift my thoughts to see if I can make all this snow melt and spring arrive early.