Earlier this month the Pennsylvania Revenue Department announced that it was notifying 865 taxpayers by mail that their unencrypted personal information was contained on one of four laptop computers stolen from a car used by Pennsylvania Revenue Department auditors while in California performing an audit. The letters being sent to the Pennsylvania taxpayers affected by this data breach will provide information about free credit monitoring services through Experian for which the affected taxpayers are eligible. Although this particular data breach is quite limited in scope, it once again points out the problems that numerous both state and federal government agencies have had in recent years, most notably, the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that resulted in the loss of personal data of more than four million people.
Too often basic security precautions have not been followed by these various government agencies including lack of password protection for laptops, lack of encryption and lack of proper security software.
Even if you are extremely careful in following security precautions on all of your own electronic devices including your computer and smartphone, you are only as safe from identity theft as the places that have your information with the worst security. Therefore, as much as you can, limit the amount of personal information you provide to any company or governmental agency to that which you absolutely must provide. For instance, hospitals and medical care providers routinely ask for your Social Security number although they have no real use for it. Provide them whenever possible with alternative forms of identification.