Recent data breaches affect consumers, children

Online Staff Report

Tens of millions of Americans could be victims of the latest corporate data breach, this one at Anthem Insurance.

Unknown hackers apparently stole personal identifying information (PII) from current and former Anthem customers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other information that can be used for identity theft.

Anthem has set up a separate website with information about the breach, but Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends consumers always go to a company’s main website first and follow links from there.

Scammers often take advantage of data breaches and subsequent confusion to set up spoof websites and send phishing emails.

It is also important to monitor potential data breaches for a child. Child identify theft is much easier for the criminal, since most parents never consider identity theft a threat to their children. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 500,000 children younger than 18 are victimized by identity thieves each year.

Your child’s identity has been stolen if:

Suspicious mail is received, like pre-approved credit cards and other financial offers normally sent to adults, in their own name.

You attempt to open a financial account for them, but it already exists or the application is denied because of a poor credit history.

A credit report already exists in their name. They may have been targeted already since only an application for credit, a credit account or a public record starts the compilation of a consumer credit file.

Even if you have not seen these signs, as your child gets close to the age of 16, it’s a good idea to check on his or her credit report. That way, there will be time to correct it before your child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment or house.

Being proactive and regularly monitoring your child/children’s credit reports and/or personal information for the existence of a credit file allows your child to enter adulthood with a clean credit slate.

BBB offers the following suggestions for consumers concerned that their PII has been stolen (also available at bbb.org/breach):

1. Do not take a “wait and see” approach, as you may have done with breaches involving credit card data. You must act quickly. Breaches involving Social Security numbers have the potential to be far more detrimental to victims, and the damage can be difficult to repair.

2. Consider taking a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts, but will create a roadblock for thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information.

3. At a minimum, if you know your Social Security number has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. While less effective than a freeze, this will provide an extra layer of protection.

4. Take advantage of the free credit monitoring services Anthem will be offering to breach victims. While this is not a preventive measure, this will alert you to new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so you can act quickly to repair the damage.

5. Vigilance is key. Regularly check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com for unauthorized charges or other signs of fraud. (NOTE: This is the only free credit report option authorized by the FTC.)

6. For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on repairing the damage caused by identity theft, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources.

7. Expect that scammers will take advantage of this data breach to send out phishing emails and other messages that appear to be from Anthem, a credit bureau or other legitimate companies. Do not click on links from any email, text or social media messages about this or any other data breach.

For all businesses that collect customer information:

Make sure you protect your customers’ data. If a data breach can happen to a major corporation with significant data security measures in place, it can happen to any business.

Check out BBB’s updated online guide Data Security — Made Simpler for free information about how to create a data security plan.

For more information, visit www.bbb.org.

Posted Feb. 5, 2015

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