Recently I received a letter from my health provider telling me a laptop had been stolen and my personal information may have been compromised as a result of the theft. The laptop contained member and dependent names, addresses, health plan and identification numbers, dates of birth and Social Security numbers. They went on to say there was no medical information on the laptop and it was password protected, but there was no mention of encryption. The health provider included in the letter a list of recommended steps I can take to protect my personal information, and they are providing me with one year of credit monitoring and resolution services.
It got me to thinking, I’m not alone, every one of us has been impacted by a data breach like this. Our personal information is everywhere. It is almost impossible to evade thieves stealing our personal information with the great number of data breach incidents occurring every year.
The offer of one year of credit monitoring and recovery services has become the standard for every data breach I have seen. No doubt, it is a compromise made with attorneys over the years to show an effort to do something to protect the victims of the data breach.
If you don’t understand how cyber crime and identity theft works you might think this sounds pretty good. But, once you understand the impact a data breach can have on you and your family and what can and many times does happen to this stolen information, you more than likely will change your mind.
It is critical to catch the early warning signs of identity theft. The longer the thief uses your identity, the harder it is to recover, and the more damage they will do to you. Identity theft victims on average spend more than 500 hours and spend $3,000 or more to repair the damage. You can spend more than 62 days of full-time effort to restore your good name and clear your credit and reputation over a period of a year or more!
Even more alarming, there are mental and emotional stresses that can impact everyone in the family. You can be harassed by debt collectors who are only concerned with getting their money back – they don’t really care that your identity was stolen. Fighting identity theft is never easy, no matter how simple the crime.
The effect on your family members when their identity is stolen can be devastating.
Is one year of credit protection and recovery services enough?
They offered me one year of credit monitoring. Credit means credit cards and other lines of credit. It doesn’t cover other personal information like your health plan identification number, Social Security number, and date of birth for example. Credit monitoring is not whole identity theft protection. It is simply a bandage for a gaping wound.
Criminals steal information to make money or use your identity. They do this by using the stolen information themselves or, more often, selling the stolen information through the Dark Web. This is where criminals buy-sell-trade stolen information. They ply their trade in chat rooms, blogs, websites, and bulletin boards, Peer-to-Peer networks, forums, private networks and black market sites. This stolen information can change hands many times. Keep in mind that this means there are a lot of criminals that have your personal identifying information and they will have it for all time – not just one year!
How is this information used?
Criminals can use the information to become you. They can open bank accounts, get credit cards, set up a driver’s license and more. Here is one chilling example of what can happen. With enough personal information the criminal can obtain a driver’s license in “your” name, get into an alcohol related auto accident, obtain medical treatment in “your” name, sent to prison in “your” name, released a few months later in “your” name and then commits another crime and on the run – in “your” name! If you get pulled over for a minor traffic violation, you are not going home that night or perhaps the next. It will be up to you to fix this problem. Try to unwind all of this. It almost seems impossible..
Do you think my example is too extreme? Have heard about Stancy Nesby of California? Her identity was stolen and four years later she was arrested seven times before the matter could be cleared up. She still is looking over her back in fear another problem will pop up. You can watch the CNN report here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdQtYRNhgig&list=PLBBEA58EB9E3E8DF5
Your stolen information may not be used immediately. It can sit in the Dark Web for years after the data breach before a criminal takes advantage of it. There may be several attempts by various criminals to use your information over many years meaning you will forever have to be on guard.
Who is left holding the bag when the year of credit protection and recovery is over? Who is left dealing with the effects of the data breach when it is more that credit information that is compromised? It is up to each data breach victim to take proactive steps to protect his/her personal information.
You have two choices
The first is to take what the company suffering the data breach gives you, or you can take steps to protect your personal information. If the latter is your choice, I recommend you look for a whole identity theft protection service that covers all aspects of your identity, not just credit. The service should include credit bureau data, fraud data bases, public records, telephone/utilities and Internet surveillance. The service should have credit and cyber-crime protection, which could include a thorough cleaning of malware from the computer and whole identity recovery.
Yes, you will pay for this whole identity theft protection service. You won’t see anyone offering to take care of it for you. However, you will rest easier knowing professionals are watching your back and notifying you when your compromised information shows up and then fixing it for you.