While researching identity theft protection services I stumbled across several articles that were criticizing the industry for selling services on fear. My knee jerk reaction was “that's not right. Don't prey on my fears”. Often these articles were selling me on the fact that I can, by myself, do a lot to protect my identity. They are right. I can do a lot on my own and they had some good suggestions. Like taking out a P.O. box in another zip code and running all my credit cards through it and monitoring my credit myself.
Then I keep reading news like the ones below:
- Russian Hackers Amass Over a Billion Internet Passwords
At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic. Selling the records on the black market would be lucrative. While a credit card can be easily canceled, personal credentials like an email address, Social Security number or password can be used for identity theft. Because people tend to use the same passwords for different sites, criminals test stolen credentials on websites where valuable information can be gleaned, like those of banks and brokerage firms. Click here to read the full article.
- 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It
Prior to Thanksgiving 2013, someone installed malware in Target’s (TGT) security and payments system designed to steal every credit card used at the company’s 1,797 U.S. stores. When a customer swiped their card the malware would step in, capture the shopper’s credit card number. The information was then stored on a Target server that had been commandeered by the hackers. The article goes on to say that it is a measure of how common these type of crimes have become. How conventional the hackers’ approach was in this case. Target was prepared for just such an attack. An alert system had been installed and it worked beautifully. Target security was alerted, but then Target did not react quickly. Standing by as 40 million credit card numbers, and 70 million addresses, phone numbers, and other pieces of personal information were down loaded from its mainframes. Click here to read the full article by Business Week.
- Hospital Network Hacked, 4.5 Million Records Stolen
4.5 million patients had their data stolen from Community Health Systems. CHS, which operates 206 hospitals across the United States, made the announcement on Monday that hackers recently broke into its computers and stole the data. The hackers gained access to patient's names, Social Security numbers, physical addresses, birthdays and telephone numbers.Victims were not just recent patients. Anyone who received treatment from any doctor's office tied to the network of hospital's in the last five years to include anyone who was merely referred there by an outside doctor is affected. This data breach puts these people at heightened risk of identity fraud. This allows criminals to open bank accounts and credit cards on their behalf, take out loans and ruin personal credit history. The company operates hospitals in 28 states but are the most concentrated in the states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. Click here to read the article by CNN Money in it entirety.
As research continues it quickly becomes clear that, even though the identity theft protection industry stands to profit by using fear as a selling point, they are completely justified to do so. In reality the news does it for them. They can just simply point it out as I just did.
As for going it alone when it comes to protecting yourself, you can, but will you? Do you really want to? I don't know about you, but I simply don't have the same resources available to me that a professional service has. I also would much rather be doing something else besides worrying about my identity being leveraged by some hacker or criminal. It is just so much easier to pay a company that has a vested interest in watching my back. If it is such a bad thing and a waist of money then why do so many financial institutions do the very same thing? I think I will risk a few bucks every month on the chance that I will receive absolutely no benefit from paying to protect my identity. In fact I hope I don't. I've already had the not so fun experience of having someone on the other side of the county run up some charges on my ATM card. That was what got me started researching. I was lucky and found it right away. My bank did not. I contacted them, ordered new bank cards and after a few weeks got my money back. I can only imagine what a nightmare I could have been put through if some identity thief had run wild with my ID.
So my take on it is, yes you can go it alone, but why do so. We all have a role to play when it comes to protecting our identity. Part of the role for me is to pay a few bucks every month to have someone actively searching the internet on my behalf and for my protection. I have good credit and I will keep it that way. For more on identity theft protection click here to read a review of Identity Guard, a company that financial institutions turn to for protection.