It’s making headlines again with journalists saying it’s the fastest growing crime in America, and anyone with a Social Security number is vulnerable. So how serious is the identity theft epidemic? So serious that former defense secretaries, CIA directors and counterterrorism advisors may be recent victims. Science Applications International Corp., a company known for hiring Washington’s most powerful intelligence and military officials, had their database broken into, an information surprise attack, leaving thousands of employees, many with security clearances, wide open to being stripped of their most valuable information.
Stolen identify not only affects Washington’s most elite security advisers, but also average citizens who have no idea they are being robbed.
Smart Business spoke to Ron Williams at Talon Companies about keeping your data safe from identity thieves.
How vulnerable are individuals and business to identity theft?
Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life are currently facing this harsh reality after a ring of identity thieves gained access to ChoicePoint, one of the most frequently used companies to access personal information. ChoicePoint holds the keys to personal profiles of nearly every consumer, selling their information to employers, landlords and government agencies. Shocked by the breach, attorneys and investigators are scrutinizing ChoicePoint executives for withholding news of the breach to those affected for several months.
Companies like ChoicePoint, who retain personal information about individuals in electronic format are now required to report any and all breaches to individuals who live in the states that have enacted legislation such as California’s SB 1386, a law that regulates the privacy of personal information.
What should people know about protecting their information?
As the epidemic escalates, many are left feeling helpless to respond to its devastating impact. Understanding the strategies used by these sneaky suspects can prohibit you from becoming a target. Identity thieves who broke into ChoicePoint’s database set up more than 50 fraudulent business accounts to gain access to consumer data. Combating these silent thieves requires proactive measures, investigation what others know about you and being vigilant about any sign of fraudulent activity.
Simple steps such as shredding all important documents, never disclosing information to unknown callers and only shipping on websites where the credit card account is encrypted are critical to halting this criminal activity before it becomes a crisis.
What should people do if they believe their information has been stolen?
Once a person has fallen prey to having their personal information stolen, it is critical to take the urgent steps needed, such as filing a police report, notifying one of the three major credit bureaus and, most importantly, issuing a fraud alert requiring brokers, credit card companies and other lenders to scrutinize anyone who opens any account in your name. Californians can also order a ‘credit freeze,’ requiring lenders, retailers and other businesses to get special access to your credit report through a pin-based system, preventing anyone from getting new loans and credit in your name.
What is the U.S. government doing to combat identity theft?
While there is no silver bullet to address identity violations, members of the U.S. Senate are introducing a package of measures to regulate the use of Social Security numbers by government agencies and private companies. This legislation would prohibit the sale or display of Social Security numbers to the public and require a business or government entity to notify individuals when a hacker has obtained sensitive information. Last year, Congress approved the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which imposes tougher penalties on identity thieves.
Although progress is being made, former Secret Service and F.B.I. agents who have spent years investigating these crimes can provide extensive expert advice on how to respond to and combat this escalating epidemic.
For further insight and information:
U.S. Government for victims of identity theft: www.consumer.gov
U.S. Secret Service for victims of identity theft: www.treas.gov
FTC consumer complaint form: https://rn.ftc.gov
U.S. Department of Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov
SSA Inspector General for fraud: http://www.ssa.gov
Ron Williams is the CEO at Talon Companies. Reach him at (800) 808-2566 or email@example.com to schedule a training program. Reach Talon Companies Headquarters at firstname.lastname@example.org, (800) 808-2566, or www.TalonCompanies.com.