CREDIT FREEZE

A credit freeze is, as the name implies, a freezing of your credit report at your request whereby no one can have access to your credit report even if they have your Social Security number and other personal information about you.  You control access to the credit report through a special PIN that you choose.   Thus, even if someone was able to steal your Social Security number, they could not parlay that into access to your credit report to be  able to purchase things or set up accounts using your name.  If you need to thaw out your credit report at such times as you want to apply for credit in the future, it is an easy procedure to do so using your PIN; then, after your new credit has been established, you can freeze your credit report again.

Here is a link to Consumers Union’s webpage that describes the credit freeze laws for each individual state.  Because the laws differ from state to state, you should check on the laws for your own particular state when putting on a credit freeze because the costs differ from state to state.  http://defendyourdollars.org/document/guide-to-security-freeze-protection

Having your credit frozen will not affect your ability to get your annual free credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  It is important to put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Here are the links to each of them where you can go to freeze your credit.

Equifax  https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

TransUnion:  https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

Experian   https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Scam of the day – November 8, 2012 – South Carolina data breach update

As I first reported to you on October 31st, foreign hackers succeeded in stealing the computer records of 3.6 million South Carolina citizens from the South Carolina Department of Revenue.  These records contained a treasure trove of information for identity thieves including names, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and debit card numbers.  What is particularly troubling about this data breach is that we have heard this all before.  Last year Social Security numbers of 3.5 million Texans were mistakenly disclosed to the public by a government employee.  In 2006 a lost laptop of a Veterans Administration employee contained personal data of 26.5 million veterans that could have been used for identity theft and these are just a few of the instances of either accidental or purposeful data security breaches.  What is most troubling is that with the execption of some of the credit card numbers and debit card numbers in the most recent South Carolina hacking, none of the rest of the information in all of these instances were encrypted which would have protected the privacy of the individuals even if the system’s security had been breached.

TIPS

This is not just a South Carolina problem.  It is a problem with every company, state agency or federal agency that holds your personal information.  You are only as safe as the weakest place that holds your personal information.  The key then is to ask of any company or institution that holds your information, do they encrypt this information and if not, why not.  When it comes to state or federal agencies, a call to your state and federal legislators might also bring this problem to their attention.  Meanwhile, as I have discussed in the past, you may wish to have a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, it cannot be used to purchase expensive items because your credit report is locked and can only be unlocked through the use of your private PIN.

Scam of the day – October 31, 2012 – South Carolina Department of Revenue hacked

Recently,  South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley disclosed that a hacker based outside of the United States had hacked into the South Carolina Department of Revenue Computers and that data including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and debit card numbers on 387,000 people was stolen thereby putting these people in serious jeopardy of identity theft.  South Carolina officials did say, however, that only 16,000 of the stolen credit card numbers were not encrypted, however, the theft of the hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers alone would place these individuals in serious danger of identity theft.  Once an identity thief has your credit card or debit card number, the identity thief can get access to your credit card or bank account respectively and with a Social Security number the identity thief could get access to your credit report thereby enabling the identity thief to use your identity and credit for large purchases.

TIPS

No matter how good you are at protecting your personal data, you are only as safe as the entity with the weakest security that holds your personal data.  It is for this reason that you should limit as much as possible how much information you provide the people with whom you do business.  Your doctor, for instance, does not need your Social Security number as an identifying number.  You should always check your credit card statement and bank account statement monthly to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges and if you find any, report them immediately to avoid liability.  Finally, you should consider putting a credit freeze on yoru credit report so that even if your personal data is stolen, the identity thief cannot get access to your credit report.  You can find more information about credit freezes elsewhere on scamicide.

Scam of the day – August 16, 2012 – Voter survey scam

Political candidates derive much of their strategy from the information they obtain from telephone surveys so it is not surprising that you may receive a telephone call from a company taking a survey on behalf of a particular candidate.  Even if you are on the federal do-not-call list, the law permits you to receive these kinds of calls.  Scam artists and identity thieves are aware of this and will call you posing as legitimate poll takers.  They will then tell you that in return for taking their poll, you are eligible for a prize and in order to be eligible for the prize, you must provide them with some personal information such as your Social Security number or your bank account number.  Unfortunately, there are no prizes for participating in such surveys and if you provide this information, you will become a victim of identity theft.

TIPS
Legitimate political poll takers never offer prizes for participation in their polls so if one is offered, you know it is a scam.  As I have repeatedly said, never give your personal information, such as your Social Security number to anyone whom you have not called and are sure of their identity and their need for the information.  Finally, as I have indicated before, you may wish to place a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if your Social Security number is stolen, the identity thief will not be able to get access to your credit report to make large purchases in your name.

Scam of the day – August 15, 2012 – Voter registration scam

With the presidential election season in high gear, it is not surprising that identity thieves and scam artists are taking advantage of this to scam people out of their money.  One of the more common identity theft schemes involves a call from your city or town clerk verifying your registration as a voter.  In order to do this, you are told that you need to provide your Social Security number.  Once you have done this, you have handed the identity theft all he or she needs to steal your identity and obtain credit in your name.

TIPS

Never give your Social Security number to anyone whom you have not called and does not absolutely need it.  Your city or town clerk will never call you to confirm your Social Security number for purposes of verifying your voter registration.  If you have a question about your voter registration, contact directly your city or town clerk at a telephone number that you know is correct.  You also may wish to put a credit freeze, which is described elsewhere in this website/blog on your credit report to prevent access to your credit report and your credit even if someone is able to get your Social Security number.

Scam of the day – August 1, 2012 – Data breach at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue

For the fourth time in the last six years, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue has negligently released personal information on Wisconsin taxpayers putting them at serious risk of identity theft.  This time the Wisconsin DOR put up on its website a report of real estate property sales from 2011, but included for all the world to see 110,795 Social Security numbers of people involved in those transactions.  The state is offering free credit monitoring to those people whose Social Security numbers were released, but that is of little consolation when you consider the shoddy information security practices of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

TIPS

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is not the only transgressor when it comes to inadqeuate data security and unfortunately, your own personal security is only as safe as the  company or agency that holds your data with the weakest security measures in place.  The best place to look for a helping hand is at the end of your own arm so you should proactively consider protecting your credit report with a credit freeze so that even if someone obtains your Social Security number they cannot get access to your credit report for a large purchase.  You should also limit the places to which you give your personal information as much as possible and always inquire as to their security practices.

Scam of the day – July 21, 2012 – LinkedIn class action

Following up on the “scam of the day” of July 13th which dealt with data breaches at Yahoo, LinkedIn and others, you should be aware of a class action that has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of all LinkedIn users.  According to the lawsui,t LinkedIn violated its own user agreement as well as industry standards by not fully encrypting its users’ personal information and by failing to store that information on separate servers from users’ passwords.  Additional allegations of lax security were also made.  I will keep you informed as to the progress of this class action.

TIPS

Don’t merely depend on the companies with which you do business to protect your personal information.  You should do the best you can to keep your information secure online.  Don’t store your credit card numbers on the websites of companies with which you do business online.  Put a credit freeze on your credit report to keep it safe even if a company with your information is hacked.  Don’t give out your Social Security number unless you absolutely must and use different and complex passwords for every company with which you do business online so that if one company is hacked, the identity thief does not have your password for everywhere else.

Scam of the day – July 13, 2012 – Yahoo data breach and how to protect yourself

Data breaches are a fact of modern digital life.  This week hundreds of thousands of Yahoo users had their usernames and passwords stolen from one of their databases and just within the past month social network sites Formspring and LinkedIn had their databases hacked into resulting in the loss of personal information of millions more people.  It is important to remember that your own personal security is only as safe as the company with the weakest security that holds your information.  But there are things you can do to protect yourself.

TIPS

Do not give your Social security number to companies that request it unless you truly legally must do so.  Your Social Security number is the key to identity theft and can provide access to to your credit report which in turn can provide an identity thief with access to your credit.  Use complex passwords and use different passwords for each of your accounts so that if a breach occurs, not all of your accounts are in jeopardy.  It is easy to pick  a passowrd with numbers and letters and just vary it slightly from account to account.  Put a credit freeze on your credit report so that even if someone gets your Social Security number and name, they cannot get access to your credit report. With a credit freeze, you credit report can only be accessed through a PIN that you keep private.