Anthem, one of America's largest health insurers, has confirmed a massive data breach. Hackers stole as many as 80 million records of customers, as well as of past and current employees. Social security numbers, birthdays and addresses have been compromised, though at this point, no credit card data, bank information or medical history appears to have been accessed. The Anthem breach follows big events at Experian, eBay, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, Target, all of which have occurred in the last two years. While there is no single way to protect your coveted identity, but there are plenty of best practices to employ to keep the criminals at bay.
Because it is tax season, let’s start with specific tax-related scams, which the I.R.S has highlighted on its “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2015-filing season. In addition to electronic hoaxes, where some may unknowingly turn over personal information to criminals; there are also fake calls from fraudsters get unsuspecting taxpayers to fork over money they don't owe. The IRS says that some of the most common scams are those, which are the most personal -- unscrupulous tax practitioners who promise outlandish refunds. If you think you've been scammed by a tax preparer, report it to the Treasury Inspector General Administration and forward any IRS phishing emails to the IRS.
In general, you should refrain from providing businesses with your Social Security Number just because they ask for it. Give it only when required. (Medicare recipients take note: your SSN is printed on your Medicare card, so be careful with it!) Also, don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you know with whom you are dealing. If you have older relatives or friends, encourage them to let you know if they have been contacted by any organization, which offers a very high or “guaranteed” return at “no risk”, requires an urgent response or cash payment or sends email from an unrecognizable address.
Additionally, it is imperative that you review each credit card statement before you pay it -- I know it sounds silly, but many simply pay the bill, potentially missing a fraudulent charge. Finally review your credit report every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com. You want to make sure that nothing fishy has cropped up.
If you think that your identity has been stolen, you should immediately contact one of the three national credit-reporting companies (Equifax 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-888-397-3742 and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289) to put a free fraud alert on your credit report. The alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The company you call must tell the other companies, so need to call all three. The alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it, and the alert entitles you to a free credit report from each of the three companies.
The next step is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and print your Identity Theft Affidavit. Use that to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report. After these initially notifications and filings, you should consider taking a few more steps to prevent further damage. You can place credit-freeze on your credit file, which generally stops all access to your credit report. A less draconian step is to place an extended fraud alert on your file, which permits creditors to get your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity. The availability of a credit freeze depends on state law or a consumer reporting company’s policies; while fraud alerts are federal rights intended for people who believe they are, or who actually have been, identity theft victims. Some states charge a fee for placing or removing a credit freeze, but it’s free to place or remove a fraud alert.
Unfortunately, identity theft is here to stay, so the sooner you familiarize yourself with protections as well as remedies, the better off you will be.