I had the pleasure of attending a very informative seminar on identity theft yesterday morning presented by LAAHU and LegalShield. David Bruerd presented his story of identity theft, explaining how he went from a novice with a compromised identity in 2002 to one of the world’s foremost experts on the crime here in 2015. Here are my quick takeaways from his compelling 40 minute tale:
Identity theft is NOT just limited to compromised credit/debit cards. The damage can be far more insidious. For example, your identity can be commandeered and used to acquire medical care for someone else, after which your medical records now reflect that you are an RX drug user, a different blood type, or that you don’t pay your medical bills. This can literally kill you if your medical records don’t reflect your proper allergic reactions, blood type, etc. and you later receive care that reacts adversely with your real profile.
Identity theft is 51 times (!) more likely to happen to a child than an adult. Criminals target children because they have a longer window in which to operate before someone noticed what they’ve done. Adults may be vigilant of their credit activity, but there’s (until now) no reason to double check your child’s credit history.
With the ubiquity of credit cards, online shopping, and cloud-based data services, it’s almost impossible to prevent your identity from being stolen. Your information is out there, and while merchants, friends, coworkers, employers, and anyone else who may have your information will take steps to keep your data secure, it’s only a matter of time before someone you have dealings with is on the receiving end of a data breach. This beautiful chart from informationisbeautiful.net shows just how common it is for a major business entity to be breached. Take a look and I’ll bet you will find a half dozen companies that you’ve worked with in the last year.
Even if you somehow avoid working with Target, Home Depot, EBay, JP Morgan Chase, or Sony, you can’t avoid working with the Internal Revenue Service every year. Your risk is twofold- the agency itself has been a victim of data breach in the past, while just recently one of the biggest filers of online tax returns – Intuit – had to temporarily halt operations as it discovered hackers were filing fraudulent tax returns in an attempt to collect a refund from the government at either the state or Federal level.
Being largely unable to prevent your identity from being stolen, what should you do? The answer is to protect yourself with a full-service identity theft protection plan. “Protect what you cannot prevent” was David’s refrain. There are many different services out there that give the impression that you’re “covered,” but the biggest hassle of identity theft is the estimated 600 hours that it takes to actually restore your good name. Any ID theft protection service should have integrated identity theft restoration. This means the company will do the work for you, not guide you as to what needs to be done or offer to monitor your credit but do nothing when an actual breach happens.
Unfortunately with great progress comes further need for protection from criminals whom have also progressed. Twenty years ago they were smashing your car window and stealing your tape deck. Now it’s much easier, less risky and more profitable these days to steal your identity and sell it a thousand times rather than that same deck (ok, maybe now it would be your iPod) once. Identity theft protection is the cost of doing business now. With every convenience comes a cost. Henry Ford brought the automobile to the masses and then we had to insure ourselves against the risk of hurting ourselves or our property with this new technology. With the convenience of not having to carry cash everywhere, pay with a credit card, your phone, or even a watch (!) comes the cost of having to protect yourself.