Scam of the day – August 16, 2014 – Treasury Department says IRS puts taxpayers in danger of identity theft

An audit performed by the Inspector General for the Treasury Department has found that the IRS does not consistently perform background checks on contractors with which it does business putting millions of Americans in danger of identity theft.  According to the report, the IRS failed to perform proper background checks in more than half of the contracts reviewed by the Inspector General.  Many of these contractors failed to perform any criminal or credit background checks on their employees despite the fact that these employees would be handling sensitive personal information.  In one instance, the IRS provided a printing services contractor with a compact disk with names, addresses and Social Security numbers of 1.4 million taxpayers with not a single person working on this matter having been screened by way of a criminal background check or credit check.  In other instances, former criminals with lengthy records were found to have access to IRS records containing personal information that could be used for identity theft purposes.  This is not the first time that the IRS has been found negligent in this regard.  A previous investigation in 2013 uncovered the same problems of a lack of sufficient background checks for people with access to sensitive IRS information.  The IRS has said that it will now make changes in its policies to require such background checks in the future, but at the moment, that is just lip service.


This is just another example of how you are only as safe from identity theft as the places with the weakest security that hold your personal information.  One takeaway from this is that as much as possible, you should limit the places that do hold your personal information.  When a business asks for your Social Security number as an identifying number, which they still may do under the law, offer them something else such as your driver’s license number which is not likely to be of use to an identity thief.

Scam of the day – May 7, 2014 – Hospital data breach

Medical facilities, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices have become a major source of data breaches resulting in large numbers of patients becoming victims of identity theft.  Recently the Flowers Hospital in Alabama notified an undisclosed number of its patients that their personal information including their names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and health insurance numbers had been stolen between June 2013 and February 2014.  The hospital is offering free identity theft monitoring services to those people affected and are giving the victims until June 30th to sign up for the service.   According to the letter sent by the hospital to the victims of the data breach, a hospital lab employee stole forms from the hospital that contained the above-described information.  Yesterday a class action lawsuit was filed against the hospital alleging negligence and other civil violations.  The hospital employee alleged to have been behind the data breach has been arrested.


This case is another example of the fact that you are only as safe from identity theft as the places with the worst security that hold your personal information.  It is also important to note that, as I have noted previously, your Social Security number is a key to identity theft.  In the hands of an identity thief, your Social Security number makes it a simple matter for a criminal to steal your identity.  We are all routinely asked for our Social Security number when we receive medical services, but the truth is that medical providers have no need for our Social Security numbers.  The main reason that medical providers collect Social Security numbers is to make it easier for them to collect on unpaid bills. In the future when asked by any company or medical provider for your Social Security number, inquire as to why they need it.  If there is no good reason for them to have it, offer another form of identification such as a driver’s license number.

Scam of the day – April 14, 2013 – Bank teller pleads guilty to identity theft

Recently Kelly Taplin of Byram, Mississippi pled guilty to charges of aggravated identity theft.  He will be sentenced on July 11, 2013 and is facing a mandatory two year prison sentence as well as a fine that could be as high as $250,000.  Taplin was employed as a teller at the Trustmark National Bank in Byram, Mississippi where she had access to a customer’s name, Social Security number and date of birth.  She used this information to take out a loan in the customer’s name, the proceeds of which she used for her own personal purposes.  This case again points out that regardless of what you do, you are vulnerable to identity theft because of the many places that have personal information on you that can be accessed either by an identity thief who hacks into the information from outside a company with which you do business or, as in this case, by an identity thief within the company itself who has access to your information.


If you are a regular reader of Scamicide or have read my book “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age,” you are aware of the many important steps you need to do to protect yourself from identity theft.  However, even if you do all of these steps, you are still a potential victim of identity theft because of all of the companies and agencies that have personal information about you that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  It is therefore important for you to limit as much as you can, the personal information that you provide to any company or agency with which you do business.  In particular do not provide your Social Security number unless you must.  However, you should also ask any company or agency that does gather your personal information what they do to protect the security of that information from outside hackers or inside criminals and then try to limit your involvement with companies that do not properly protect your information.


Scam of the day – March 14, 2013 – Michelle Obama and 22 other public figures hacked – what it means to you

News about a website that has put on line huge amounts of personal information about 23 famous politicians, celebrities and sports figures including, Beyonce, Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Hulk Hogan, Attorney General Eric Holder, Kim Kardashian, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump and Tiger Woods has been everywhere.  What happened was that hackers were able to hack into the website and get access to the credit reports of each of these people which contained large amounts of personal information that in the hand of an identity thief could bring serious harm to the people whose information was accessed.  Instead of quietly using this information to victimize these people,these particular hackers chose to make all of the information public and put these people in serious jeopardy.  But what does this mean to you?  It is another example of how you are only as safe as the place storing your information with the weakest security.  In this case, an obvious flaw in the verification process permitted the hacker to pose as each of the victims and get their no longer private information.


Getting access to the Social Security number of each of the victims was an important first step in the hacking.  The Social Security number is a key to identity theft and it is something that you should try to keep private, as much as possible.  There are plenty of ways that a determined hacker can get a Social Security number, but don’t make it easy for them.  Don’t provide it to places that do not need it and do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.


Scam of the day – February 24, 2013 – More income tax identity theft scams

Every season is scam season and income tax season is a huge time for income tax identity thefts by which identity thieves access your name and Social Security number and the file a phony income tax return in your name and claim a phony income tax refund based on false information they include in the return.  The Treasury Department Inspector General issued a report last summer that predicted the IRS will lose as much as 21 billion dollars to income tax identity theft over the next five years.  However, it is not just the IRS that loses, but it is also the person whose name and Social Security number has been stolen who is harmed.  If you file your legitimate return after the identity thief has filed a return using your name and Social Security number, it can take up to a year for you to get your legitimately owed refund from the IRS.


The key to protecting yourself from this kind of identity theft is to protect your Social Security number as much as possible.  Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.  Shred any documents that may contain personal information, such as your Social Security number so dumpster diving identity thieves cannot go through your trash and turn it into their gold.  Limit the places that have your Social Security number.  Don’t give it to companies that ask for it to use it as an identifier of you unless they legally need it, such as when you apply for a loan from a bank.  My eye doctor wanted my Social Security number and I refused to give it.  Remember, the security of your personal information is only as secure as the security of the weakest place that holds your information.  Keep your computer and other electronic devices protected with the latest security software to prevent hacking into your devices and stealing your information.  Finally, file your income tax return as early as possible to prevent an identity thief from filing before you do.

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.


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.