Posts Tagged: ‘credit freeze’

Scam of the day – July 19, 2014 – Houston Astros hacked

July 19, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

No company is safe from the danger of hacking including, as we recently learned Major League Baseball teams.  The Houston Astros were recently embarrassed to announce that their computers had been hacked by unknown hackers who released information about trade discussions involving the Astros and a number of other Major League Baseball teams including the Miami Marlins with which a trade for All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was discussed.  The hacking did not appear to be for any reason other than to expose and embarrass the management of the Astros, however that is of little consolation to employees of the Astros whose personal information can also be found in the Astros’ computers and which, if released could lead to identity theft.

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This is just another example that no entity including governmental agencies as well as private companies is safe from the danger of hacking.   A recent report by the State of New York indicated that in New York alone there were more than 900 data breaches that exposes personal and financial records of 7.3 million New Yorkers thus making them victims and potential victims of identity theft.  It is important to remember that you are only as safe as the place with the weakest security that holds your personal information so whenever possible do not provide your personal information, such as your Social Security number to everyone who asks for it.  Health care providers do not need your Social Security number although most request it.  Often the only reason that they want it is to make it easier to collect an unpaid bill from you.  The health care industry in general has done a poor job of protecting personal data from hackers.  The place to find a helping hand in protecting your data is at the end of your own arm.  Limit the places that have your personal information as best you can.  When companies request your Social Security number, offer them another identifier for example.  I recently did this with my eye doctor and the doctor agreed.  You may also want to place a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if your Social Security number and other personal information is stolen, the identity thief will not be able to access your credit report.  You can find information as to how to put a credit freeze on your credit report in the credit freeze section on the right hand side of this page.

Scam of the day – July 14, 2014 – Chinese hackers steal information from Federal Office of Personnel Management

July 14, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Hacking of American companies by Chinese hackers is not particularly startling as it is going on all of the time, however the federal government is now admitting that back in March Chinese hackers were able to hack into the data bases of the Office of Personnel Management and gain access to personal information on thousands of government workers.  What is particularly troublesome is that the Office of Personnel Management manages a program called e-QIP where federal employees who are seeking security clearances must provide much personal information including personal financial data.  It is not known what the purpose of the hacking was and whether or not it was government sanctioned or not.  What is known is that, just as the hacking into the computers of the United States Department of Energy last week, showed, government databases are just as vulnerable as those of private companies.

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So what does this mean to you?

First and foremost if you are someone whose information was maintained by the Office of Personnel Management you should be on heightened alert for identity theft.  You should check your credit report with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  You also would be wise to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus to prevent someone with personal information about you from gaining access to your credit report and utilizing your credit.  You can find a detailed explanation of credit freezes along with instructions for getting one in the right hand column of the first page of Scamicide.  As for the rest of us, this is yet another lesson that you are only as safe from identity theft as the places with the weakest security that hold personal information about you.  Whenever possible limit the amount of personal information held by companies and governmental agencies with which you do business.  Also, do not leave your credit card number on file with any retailer with which you do business regularly.  It may be convenient to do so, but it increases your risk of identity theft if the company is hacked and your data is compromised.

Scam of the day – July 10, 2014 – Indiana passes law to protect children from identity theft

July 10, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Children have become a ripe target of identity thieves and with good reason.  Armed with a Social Security number of a child, an identity thief can establish credit in the name of the child, abuse that credit with little chance that the child or his or her parents will become aware of the identity theft until the child reaches an age where they may be applying for financial aid for college or applying for a car loan.  It is only then that the child and his or her family become aware that the child’s credit report has been corrupted which can create substantial problems for that child, not only in obtaining a loan, but in getting a job, insurance, renting an apartment, getting a loan or in the many other areas where a credit report is used.  For adults, credit reports can be frozen such that even if someone has that person’s Social Security number and other identifying information, the person’s credit report cannot be accessed and used for fraudulent purposes, however except in a handful of states, the credit reports of children cannot be frozen.  Now Indiana has joined this small number of states that permit the credit reports of children to be frozen.  If your state does not have such a law, you should lobby your legislators to pass such legislation.

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Freezing a credit report is one of the most effective ways to prevent identity theft.  Unlike costly credit monitoring, which is often offered for free to victims of a data breach by the company whose data has been stolen, a credit freeze can actually stop forms of identity theft.  Credit monitoring merely tells you after the fact that you have been a victim.  It offers the same protection as someone who has just been hit by a truck while crossing the street and someone comes over to the victim lying in the road and informs him or her that he or she has been just been hit by a truck.  For instructions as to how to put a credit freeze on your credit report, go to the archives of Scamicide at the top of this page and type in “credit freeze.”

Scam of the day – July 4, 2014 – Butler University data breach

July 5, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Butler University has become the latest school to disclose that their computers had been hacked and personal information including Social Security numbers of 163,000  students, faculty, staff, former students and even people who merely applied to the school was compromised. This is just the latest instance of a college or university being hacked.  It also is another breach in which the university still maintained personal information in its data banks on former students, and in this case, mere applicants although the university had absolutely no reason to maintain Social Security numbers for such people.  As I have told you many times previously, you are only as safe as the places with the weakest security that hold your personal information.

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If you have ever had any contact with Butler University I urge you to contact the school and not wait to be notified in order to learn if you were affected by this latest data breach.  The University’s assistance line is available Mondays through Fridays between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.  The telephone number is 888-414-8021 and you should use the reference number 8867061014.   I also urge you to put a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone has access to your Social Security number, they will not be able to access credit in your name.  With so many places with weak security  holding personal information including Social Security numbers on all of us, I urge everyone to consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report.  You can find directions how to do it by going to the Scamicide archives.

Scam of the day – May 11, 2014 – What’s up doc? Your identity

May 11, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

In recent weeks a rash of identity thefts have occurred targeting physicians in New Hampshire, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.  Many of these physicians who have become victims of income tax identity theft as their Social Security numbers were used by identity thieves filing phony income tax returns with their Social Security numbers and collecting refunds based on counterfeit W-2s.  Income tax identity theft is a huge problem and a sore spot with me as I don’t think the IRS is taking the one simple, low-cost step that could dramatically reduce this crime.  The IRS. as I have told you many times previously, does not compare W-2s in filed tax returns with the real W-2s filed by employers until August, long after they have sent out refunds.  Merely comparing the W-2s before sending out a refund would go a long way toward stemming this tide of income tax identity theft in a cost effective manner.

The identity theft of the physicians in the affected states has been traced to various state and national professional organizations, however the precise source of the hacking has still not been determined.  Once again, it is clear that regardless of how protective you are of your identity, you are only as safe as the places that hold your personal information with the weakest security.

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Whenever possible do not provide your Social Security number to companies, agencies or other entities with which you do business unless you absolutely must do so.  Also, monitor your credit report and your financial accounts regularly to become aware of any security breaches as soon as possible.  Also, because you cannot control your own security, it is prudent to put a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone obtains your Social Security number, they cannot get access to your credit report for purposes of making large purposes.  Go to the section on Credit Freezes on the right hand side of this page for information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports.

Scam of the day – April 26, 2014 – Tufts Medicare Preferred data breach

April 26, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Health insurance company Tufts Health Plans has just disclosed that it was a victim of a data breach through which names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 8,830 of its customers who had purchased Tufts Medicare Preferred Policies, such as its supplemental Medicare coverage and its prescription drug plan.  The data breach is being investigated by federal law enforcement who initially discovered the data breach during the course of another investigation.  Tufts did not disclose how the data breach occurred, but is presently saying that it “was not due to an electronic breach, IT system vulnerability or hacking.”  However, without further details as to how the data breach was discovered, I must admit that I am skeptical of their firm pronouncement that there was no failure of computer security involved.

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Tufts is offering a year of free credit monitoring to those people affected.  If you have a Tufts Medicare Preferred Policy I urge you to contact your insurer to see if you were one of the people affected by this data breach.  Credit monitoring can be helpful, but it does absolutely nothing to prevent identity theft, it merely enables you to learn that you have become an identity theft victim sooner.  A better thing to do is to put a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone has your Social Security number and other personal information about you, they cannot access your credit report and get credit in your name.  On the right hand side of this page you will find a link to information on credit freezes and how to get one.

Scam of the day – April 25, 2014 – Data breach at Iowa State University

April 25, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Iowa State University officials announced this week that their computers had been hacked and personal information including Social Security numbers of 30,000 present and former students of the university were compromised.  The university will be sending an email notification to affected individuals this week.  This is just the latest instance of a college or university being hacked.  It also is another breach in which the university still maintained personal information in its data banks on former students although the university had absolutely no reason to maintain Social Security numbers for such students.  As I have told you many times previously, you are only as safe as the places with the weakest security that hold your personal information.

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If you are a student or former student of Iowa State University I urge you to contact the school and not wait to be notified in order to learn if you were affected by this latest data breach.  I also urge you to put a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone has access to your Social Security number, they will not be able to access credit in your name.  With so many places with weak security  holding personal information including Social Security numbers on all of us, I urge everyone to consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report.  You can find directions how to do it by going to the Scamicide archives.

Scam of the day – April 1, 2014 – Military identity theft worsens

April 1, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

According to a study done by the Federal Trade Commission members of the military are twice as likely to become a victim of identity theft.  One of the primary reasons for this is the military personnel’s Social Security number.  A Social Security number is the key to identity theft.  Once an identity thief has this, he or she is off to the races.  Until recently all military ID cards used the Social Security number and although the Department of Defense has changed its policy and is now issuing military IDs with a unique Department of Defense number, the transition to these numbers only started in 2011 and will take four years to complete so many members of the military still have the old ID cards.  In addition, while Veterans Identification Cards no longer show the veteran’s Social Security number on the card, the person’s Social Security number is still embedded in the magnetic stripe on the back of the card so identity thieves who, through various pretenses manage to scan the card can obtain the Social Security number.  These cards are also being phased out, but many veterans still have these cards.

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Members of the military with the old-style cards should be particularly careful about providing the card as identification and should limit its use as an identifier whenever possible.  Although members of the military are eligible for an Active Duty Alert to be placed on their files with the three major credit reporting agencies that requires creditors to verify the identity of anyone before issuing credit in the name of the member of the military, a credit freeze, which locks your credit report and requires a PIN to make it available is probably a better choice.  You can find instructions as to how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports on the right hand side of this page.

Scam of the day – March 20, 2014 – Maricopa County Community College hacked

March 20, 2014 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  Recently the Maricopa County Community College revealed that its computers had been hacked and personal information including Social Security numbers and banking information of more than 2.4 million students, former students, employees and vendors covering a period of more than thirty years was compromised.  As I have indicated to you in a number of Scams of the day, colleges and universities have been prime targets for hackers because they provide the perfect combination of often lax security and large amounts of personal information.  What makes this security breach even more egregious is the fact that Maricopa County Community College was hacked back in 2011, but steps to improve the security of their computer systems were not taken despite the recommendations of employees of the colleges information technology department and their warning that the 2011 breach which only affected 400 people exposed a flaw that could affect many more people.

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Presently a class action is being prepared by the Phoenix law firm of Gallagher and Kennedy. If you have been affected by the data breach, you may wish to contact them.  You also should check your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion in order to look for evidence of identity theft.  You should also consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report to prevent it from being accessed by an identity theft armed with your Social Security.  You can find instructions here on the Scamicide website as to how to put a credit freeze on your credit report.  This data breach also brings up the question again as to why Maricopa retained personal information on people who have long ago ceased to have a relationship with the college.