Protecting Your Identity: What now?
Writer / Tia Nielsen
Photographer / Ruth Jopson
How many types of identity theft exist? Are data breaches that significant? Lately, known data breaches abound. Our family has been notified of three breaches this year alone. How about you?
There are currently at least eight types of identity theft that apply to individuals. Businesses and government agencies are also targeted. We’re heard the news reports. Multiple large-scale data breaches have affected millions of individuals with Personal Identifying Information (PII) stolen. To get a handle on this growing issue, we’ll focus on personal IDentity Theft (IDT) and what options exist to deal with the legal and financial problems IDT can cause. The best working solutions may be a surprise.
First, consider that there is a proven, dark underworld striving day and night to get your personal data, preferably gleaned from a single data mining campaign reaping millions of individuals PII. Why? Money. Lots and lots of money.
“Information management is big business,” notes Cindy Tollar, Greenwood resident and a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist for 11 years. Her observation is verified by multiple companies in cybersecurity.
Trustwave Global Security does forensic investigations on threat intelligence and actual data breaches. Their 2015 annual report is based on studying 574 data compromises across 15 countries during 2014. The report can be downloaded online for free. Here are a few lowlights:
A hacker may “invest” $5,900 in a malware campaign. Thirty days later, the hacker could have earned $84,000. The Return on Investment is a tidy 1,425 percent. And what about business data breaches that could affect you? Trustwave found that the average length of time from intrusion into a business system to containment is 111 days.
“No one, no matter how good they are, can guarantee that the info you give them is safe,” says Tollar. “Even those that have not experienced being a victim of identity theft now have the daunting task of guarding personal information that is collected and shared across a variety of settings from birth to death.”
Tollar’s desire is to educate the public. “Prior to 2005, few thought about who had their data. We still gave it out freely in exchange for things we wanted. Yet every dentist, doctor, hospital, school, employer, retailer, credit company, finance company and more that we have given our and our children’s information out to … still has it. Somewhere.”
FINANCIAL IDENTITY THEFT
Credit card fraud or money being scooped from bank accounts often comes to mind when first thinking about IDT. However, Kroll, a leading risk consulting and mitigation company, states their investigative and restoration work for financial IDT accounts is not the most reported type of fraud.
The five most common ID complaints in 2014 were: 1) government documents or benefits fraud, 38.7 percent; 2) credit card, 17.4 percent; 3) phone or utilities fraud, 12.5 percent; 4) bank fraud, 8.2 percent; and 5) employment-related fraud.
Credit freezes are urged by some experts. That type of freeze has pros and cons. One key factor to consider is a credit freeze only takes care of new financial accounts; they do not protect your established accounts. Nor do they protect you from a thief taking control of your current bank accounts. However, a Kroll blog writes, “With a freeze in place, any application for credit or other services will likely be denied, thus reducing the chances of an identity thief successfully using your identity to obtain some sort of credit.”
MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT
This is “the information crime that can kill you,” states the World Health Organization. As health records become more aligned digitally, incorrect medical data can be on your record from someone else using your identity. That person’s health history is melded with yours. It is easy for a medical mistake to occur then.
One way to spot medical theft is if you begin receiving bills for medical care or medical equipment that you or your child never sought. Advisors say to read all your mail to make sure there is nothing suspicious occurring.
CRIMINAL IDENTITY THEFT
Have you ever rolled through a stop sign? If the police stop you, they will run a check on you. You could be surprised to find that there are warrants for your arrest for a crime you did not commit. Without immediate access to legal help, you will go to jail for what someone else did.
SOCIAL SECURITY IDENTITY THEFT
Previously in the banking industry, local businesswoman Jenny Stamm had two friends dismayed to find they could not get their tax returns this year. Their tax returns had already been filed by criminals using their Social Security numbers (SSN).
DRIVER’S LICENSE FRAUD
A false license or state ID is obtained in the victim’s name. Think of all the places you present your driver’s license so you can receive services. Plus, 2016 is an election year. What if someone else voted with your ID?
INSURANCE IDENTITY THEFT
Do you know your insurance can be canceled for reasons brought about by someone else using your name, address, date of birth and SSN?
SYNTHETIC IDENTITY THEFT
This is the latest wrinkle in IDT. A composite of details from multiple different individuals is blended by criminals to accomplish their aims. However, each person who has had a portion of their ID stolen—SSN, name or date of birth—may have problems.
CHILD IDENTITY THEFT
Signs that your child may have had his SSN stolen are bills or insurance Explanation of Benefits coming in his name to your address. Some children do not know until they apply for college scholarships or for credit that their ID has been used for years by someone else. The proof of innocence, however, falls to your child, the victim.
Stamm was motivated to study multiple companies claiming to offer various protections against identity theft. She had seen so many of her banking clients become victims. They came to her because they had no idea what to do. Her bank gave the victims a 68-page booklet from the Federal Trade Commission. It was filled with steps to alert your bank, credit bureaus, the IRS, check verification companies and more, but nothing pointed the clients toward how to fix the legal and financial problems.
Stamm researched the websites, particularly the Summary of Benefits and Breach Plans links for LifeLock, AllClearID (think Anthem), ProtectMyID (with Experian), Identity Guard, IDShield (with Legal Shield and Kroll) and what a rider on homeowner insurance policies offered. Plus, Stamm searched for credible news about each business.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website states LifeLock made a $12 million penalty settlement to them in 2010 for false advertising. The FTC again slammed LifeLock this past summer for false advertising.
An AllClearID representative on the phone claimed that the coverage Anthem set up covered medical, criminal, tax and financial ID theft. Stamm pointed out to the representative that the fine print on the website about the benefits stated that only financial accounts tied to a person’s SSN were covered. After checking with her supervisor, the representative agreed that the fine print was accurate and apologized.
IDShield (with LegalShield for 24/7 access to attorneys) is Stamm’s preferred solution because it offers several ways to address the problems.
REVEIW OF TERMS AND PROMISES
• Credit monitoring is routine with all the companies.
• Resolution is also common. Resolution means you are given guidance to how to do all the work of clearing your name, handle all ensuing legal problems and the financial costs upfront. In short, you do the work.
• Restoration means that a company will do most of the work for you when given limited power of attorney. In short, they do the work. IDShield does all three aspects. For any company offering Restoration services, be sure and check the fine print to see who really does the hours of work to mitigate your problems.
• Reimbursement Services up to a specified amount are offered by many homeowner policies. Stamm says as these riders are only a few dollars per month, they make good sense. “I am an advocate of having an ID theft policy added to one’s homeowners insurance to ease the sting of a minimal financial loss, should that be the nature of the theft, and should it not be a financial loss covered by their bank or credit card company. I would not, however, use that homeowners policy for the ID theft restoration. I would use experts and professionals who do this for a living and will handle it for me.”
Believing you are safe from identity theft is akin to being on the Titanic in 1912. The claim was the ship was unsinkable. In fact, there were only 20 lifeboats on board. But an iceberg was not controlled by human claims. The Titanic hit a huge iceberg and sank in two hours and 40 minutes. Of the 2,224 people on board that massive vessel, 705 survived.
The choice is ours. Will it be the Titanic or a lifeboat?