It was somewhat distressing to recently learn that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had suffered another (yes, I did say another) data breach. The most recent data breach at the DHS which was only recently discovered affects thousands of employees of the DHS going back all the way to 2009. The breach of data includes the names of employees, their Social Security numbers and dates of birth. This is exactly the type of information that is desired by identity thieves because it can readily be turned into identity theft of the people whose data is stolen. The particular data breach involved records of a third party vendor who works with the DPH, however that is of little comfort to the DPH employees and potential victims of identity theft. In fact, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last July, federal agencies have reported more than 15,000 data breaches in 2011, which was an increase of 19% from the previous year. It should also be noted that these are just the data breaches that have been discovered. Others are undoubtedly going on undiscovered at this time.
So what does this mean to you and what can you do about this? This data breach points out again, as recognized in the GAO report that both government and the private sector are still not doing enough to keep our personal information secure. Hopefully, this will change, but in the meantime, you should limit, as much as possible, the personal information that you provide both to governmental agencies and private companies. In many instances, you must provide personal information, but in other situations, you can limit the amount of information you provide. For instance, many medical care providers ask for your Social Security number, but do not need it. In that instance, you can provide another identifying number, such as your driver’s license. You also should consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report which will prevent an identity thief, who may get access to your Social Security number or other personal information about you from getting access to your credit report for the purposes of making large purchases. You can find in the archives of Scamicide, instructions for how to get a credit freeze.