Two data breaches of government systems have made headlines since late May. One involved the Internal Revenue Service where hackers gained access to 104,000 tax returns. This pales in comparison to the hack of the Office of Personnel Management where the personal data of 21.5 million current and former employees, as well as applicants was breached.
In the case of the IRS breach, the data exposed includes the names, social security numbers, birthdate(s), addresses, tax filing status, employer identification number, and potential investment account information for those affected. The data compromised in the OPM breach included similar data, plus fingerprints in some cases, travel outside the US, contact with foreign nationals, information on neighbors, healthcare, and security clearance.
The implications of these two data breaches is much more serious than the theft of credit and debit card data experienced in the systems breaches of Target, Neiman-Marcus, Michael’s Stores, PF Chang’s, Home Depot and other retailers. The worst case scenario of the credit and debit card breaches is account numbers were stolen allowing criminals to fraudulently purchase stuff pretending to be you. It’s a headache to show you didn’t make a purchase which showed up on your account, obtain a new card, and restructure automatic charges, but identity theft is much greater issue to tackle.
Detecting identity theft is more difficult. Criminals can assume your identity with the data that was stolen from the IRS or OPM permitting them to open new accounts in your name, as well as, filing fraudulent tax returns health care claims, or even attempting to compromise government security. The work to clean up and clear yourself from issues arising after having your identity stolen are time consuming and usually require help, sometimes from an attorney or the authorities.
There are several steps individuals can take to hopefully catch things early on before they become a nightmare.
- Pull your free credit report immediately and examine it for any accounts or loans that may have been applied for or opened which you didn’t initiate. This is also a good time to clean up any mistakes and inaccuracies that may be present.
- Take advantage of the free year of credit monitoring which would alert you to new attempts to secure credit in your name.
- Consider continuing this service for another year or two in order to avoid any surprises down the road.
- Obtain a copy of your social security report showing your contributions and review annually. Monitor it for false retirement and disability filings.
- Carefully review any notifications from the IRS for duplicate tax returns, refunds, and false filings.
- Review summary of benefits notices from your health insurance provider detailing reimbursements for procedures and healthcare you didn’t receive.
- Review quarterly retirement account statements for unusual activity and changes you didn’t authorize.
Most home insurance companies do provide credit card and identity theft coverage for $10 to $20 a year. Consider adding this to your home or renter’s policy. It doesn’t prevent anything, but it does provide reimbursement for lost time from work, notary, and other fees incurred while getting your life back.
This issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Even if you weren’t impacted by the data breaches at the IRS or OPM, it’s only a matter of time before you may be forced to deal with it. Following these defensive steps now may prevent or lessen future pain from an upcoming systems hack. What steps are you taking to protect yourself? Share them with me, along with any questions or comments you may have on my Google +, Facebook, or LinkedIn pages. I’d love to hear from you!