Monday, March 19, 2007

Identity Theft: What You Can't Do to Avoid It

A few months ago, before I started this blog, I got an e-mail from my old alma mater. I get much junk mail & e-mail from them, so I didn't think much of it. Unfortunately, this time the e-mail was a serious one. I was informed that my social security number and other personal information were stolen from university records, along with those of tens of thousands of other alumni. You may have heard of this incident, it was a big one.

The question that immediately came to mind was "why?" Not why my information was stolen, that much was clear. The question was why would my school retain my social security number and other personal information more than five years after I completed my MBA? I still don't have an answer to that question.

There are probably many other institutions that retain possession of my personal records. Many of them probably do so under dubious conditions and lax security. Every doctor I ever visited, every financial institution I used, my CPAs, past landlords, former employers... the list goes on and on. Thanks to California's SB1386 if your information is stolen from an organization, that organization must inform you of the breach. Of course, once you are informed the problem is yours to deal with. You are the one that will be trying to protect or salvage your credit. The irresponsible organization that caused the problem to begin with suffers no damage. Is that screwed up, or what?

So here is what I did:

1. I immediately stopped all donations to my alma mater. My new philosophy is: not a dime for the bums.

2. I put a fraud alert on my credit report. To place a fraud alert on your credit report, visit any of the three credit reporting agencies. Here is one.

In one of my coming posts I will suggest what you CAN do to prevent your information from falling into the wrong hands, but as you can see, even with diligent care there are no guarantees.


Finnegan Lane said...

Id theft is one of my biggest fears. I can't believe how easy it is to be a victim these days! I think it's time for me to rail upon this topic once again.

Shadox said...

ID theft is certainly a major annoyance. In addition to the incident I described above, a couple of years ago I had an unauthorized, sizable purchase made on my credit card.

I think it is high time Congress started taking this thing seriously, and did something meaningful about it. Unfortunately, Congress is a hostage to special interest lobbies who will not allow any serious legislation to go through, since it may place additional "burdens" on their clients.