When I lived in Boston back in the Disco Era, my driver’s license number was my social security number. Doctors used social security numbers as patient IDs. Nowadays, we are much more guarded and yet our personal information is less secure than ever. Target. Home Depot. Chase. Anthem. Ebay. No matter how careful we are, keeping private information private has become a losing battle.
This graphic from Information is Beautiful makes me wonder if there is anyone in the U.S. who hasn’t been affected. (Information is Beautiful is a wonderful rabbit-hole of a website, by the way. You can easily lose yourself there for a couple of hours.) I accepted two years of free credit monitoring when a company allowed my personal information to be collected through a corporate hack. Was that the right thing to do? Maybe not.
Identity theft protection companies try to convince you that you need to spend hundreds of dollars each year for them to keep you safe. Until their databases are hacked. Much of this work you can do yourself. The FTC has an entire website, www.identitytheft.gov, filled with resources to help protect you and advice on what you can do if you find that your security has been compromised. They include names, phone numbers, and even a printable checklist.
There’s a guy here in Mystic, Chris Rindos, who has also done quite a bit of research on identity theft and personal protection. Chris has written a guide called Identity Protection for Free. He would have advised me not to accept the free monitoring. In fact, in less than ten minutes, Chris says that I can lock down my security from my own computer. The guide, which comes via email, costs $8.95. (Full disclosure: Chris did send me a free copy of the guide for review, but all opinions here are my own.) What I like about his guide is that it gives specific information – with easy to follow pictures — on how to fill out the various online forms. There are some tricky bits like how to format your address and which sections of the questionnaires to leave blank. This guide explains it all in detail.
Since our kids seem to be putting photos of their newly minted driver’s licenses on Instagram for all to see, I guess we should be locking them down, as well. That, too, feels like a losing battle.