It seems that not a week goes by that the media doesn’t report a data breach, which experts define as “an incident in which an individual name plus a Social Security number, driver’s license number, medical record or financial record (including debit and credit card numbers) is potentially put at risk because of exposure.” This exposure can be in either paper or electronic form. Just in the last few days came the news that a major hospital system was the target of apparently Chinese hackers who stole the information for more than 4.5 million patients, and then The UPS Store announced yesterday it was the victim of a computer attack that affected 51 stores in 24 states. These problems come in the wake of the much larger attacks on Target, PF Changs, and Neiman Marcus.
According to The Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), data breaches have become the greatest risk for identity fraud. The most recent statistics show 480 reported data breaches for the most current week, up 21.5% over the same period last year. Negligent employees are the major cause of data breaches, but malicious attacks are far more costly. 1 in 3 people who receive a notice that their information was involved in a data breach become victims of identity fraud, and 46% of consumers with breached debit cards in 2013 became fraud victims in the same year, compared with only 16% of people whose Social Security Number was compromised.
Data breaches definitely are a case of “What you don’t know CAN hurt you.” Most of the time companies are responsible about notifying people whose information was compromised, but it’s important to take charge of handling your own security and that of the seniors you care about. So what can you do? Here are 5 ideas for minimizing risk from someone else’s mistake:
1. Place a credit freeze or security freeze on your credit reports. This prevents thieves from opening new accounts on your credit report if your Social Security number is stolen. Remember that there is a charge for both placing and removing a credit freeze, so be careful if you or your senior access credit frequently. Note that simply monitoring your credit doesn’t help if your SSN isn’t involved; see step 2 below.
2. Cancel/replace a compromised card right away, and watch the account connected to that card every day or every other day for at least a month to catch any fraudulent charges. It’s a good idea to check your accounts (checking, savings, and credit/debit cards) frequently even if you haven’t been a victim. You can also ask the bank or financial institution for a special notification on the account. This is the most important step to take if you know that only your payment card information was stolen or lost.
3. Don’t shop with your debit card (because the protections aren’t as good), or if you do, be sure to sign for a transaction and not use your PIN number. Also, it’s a good idea to change your PIN annually despite the “hassle factor.” Many people write down their PINs and store them in a secure, locked place.
4. Unlink your accounts. If you have a savings account tied to your checking account with a debit card it could be looted as well if the card information is stolen.
5. Sign up for alerts against property fraud at www.propertyfraudalert.com. If someone takes out a home equity loan or files a lien against your property you can take steps to dispute it.
Data breaches are likely to continue to cause problems in the future, but with a few simple steps the risks to the elders you care about (and you) are much more manageable.