Another Day – and Another Large Scale Identity Theft

By: Mary Anne Cody

The recent attacks:

The IRS announced recently that criminals have gained unauthorized access to  approximately 100,000 individual tax accounts through the “get transcript” application.  The information accessed includes taxpayers’ social security numbers, birth dates and addresses.

The IRS is notifying the taxpayers who have had their information compromised; and is shutting down this transcript application until an assessment can be done.  The individuals whose information has been compromised are being offered free credit monitoring.   The IRS is marking these individuals’ accounts for heightened security for at least the next two years.  In addition to the 100,000 accounts with unauthorized access, the IRS is notifying approximately 200,000 individuals that there has been an attempted unauthorized access to their personal information by hackers.

A few days after this news, word came of an even larger breach, the Federal Office of Personnel Management announced their database was compromised and every Federal employee’s social security number was made available to the hackers.

What should we be doing to protect ourselves from possible identify theft or if we are a victim of identity theft, what immediate steps should we be taking?

Steps you must take when your personal information is compromised:

  1. Contact the institution directly impacted.  If you know your credit card was stolen, contact the credit card company.  If your ATM card was stolen, speak to your financial institution.
  2. Put a fraud alert on your credit report to notify lenders and creditors that you are a possible victim of identity theft and therefore need to take extra steps before credit is extended to anyone with your name and social security number.  A 90 day fraud alert should be given to at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies:

Experian- https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html

Equifax – https://wwwequifax.com/credit-education/dredit-monitoring/

TransUnion – https://www.transunion.com/personal-credit/credit-disputes/fraud-alerts.page

Once you provide the initial alert they will automatically notify the other two agencies.  You might also consider having a security freeze be put in place which would prevent any credit being offered for any specific periods of time to your name or social security number.  There are fees incurred with this service.

3. Create an identity theft report with the FTC at the site https://www.identitytheft.gov/ .  The Federal trade Commission website contains a comprehensive description of what to do as a victim of identity theft.

4. File a police report with your local law enforcement office to report the identity theft.  This combined with the Federal Trade Commission identity theft affidavit will create a complete identity theft report.

5. Contact the Social Security Administration http://www.ssa.gov/ and the Internal Revenue Service http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.

You should also be aware of what mail is being delivered to you via the postal service.   If you are not getting your usual mail you may want to contact the U.S. Postal Service to make sure that there hasn’t been a fraudulent change of address submitted under your name.

The steps described above are not an exhaustive list.  Each type of theft will have certain aspects to it which needs to be addressed.  In general, we should remind ourselves and our family members, especially young people and elderly people, to take every effort to protect their personal information including dates of birth, addresses and social security numbers.  Criminals often target the young and the elderly who do not typically file income tax returns so that the criminals can file the income tax returns under the stolen identifications.

In addition we need to remember there are also criminals using the telephone claiming to be from the IRS (or another agency), seeking personal data. We should remind family members (young and old) never to give personal information over the phone.

Two proactive steps to be taken in addition to keeping your personal data as secure as you reasonable can are:

1)     check your social security earnings statement annually and

2)     request a free annual credit report each year.

Tags: ,