Over 600 million records with personal information were impacted by more than 3,000 data breaches in the US in the last eight years. And those are just the breaches that have been reported.
How do they happen? Many are the result of much publicized hacking attacks against the computer systems of stores, banks, even state tax records. If personal information is stored in a computer system, somebody will go after it. Other records are exposed through lost or stolen laptops containing data files, too few of which have encrypted data.
But the “how” and the apologies that come after a breach mean little as we worry that our data might be in the hands of criminals.
Chances are unfortunately high that the records of our senior loved ones have been exposed as part of one or even more of those breaches. Hopefully nothing has happened – identity theft, credit card charges, etc – as a result. Still, it pays to be ready just in case.
Being on the Lookout for Misuse of Personal Data
Do the seniors in your family know how to be on the lookout for signs personal data has been used by others or what to do if notified their data has been part of a breach? Do you?
Far too many of us have received a notice saying our data may have been compromised as part of data breach. That doesn’t mean it has been used in any way, just that someone may or may not have it.
From there we’re on our own to find it. How do we do that?
- Examine every bank statement for withdrawals that don’t look right.
- Review each and every charge on credit card statements for any that might have been made by someone else.
- Check credit reports at each of the three major bureaus regularly for any sign of new accounts or other activity that should not be there. There are many services that charge for this but there is a free site run by the bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Often a company hit by a data breach will arrange for credit monitoring services for customers whose data was impacted. Consider utilizing that service if provided but be careful not to unintentionally purchase other services.
One other step to consider taking is placing a credit freeze, also called a security freeze, at each of the credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. A freeze effectively locks the account so that when someone applies for credit the bureau doesn’t provide any report back. In many states it is free to place a freeze, in others it is free if you’ve been notified of a breach or at a nominal charge other times.
While many place a freeze after their data has been compromised, this can be considered as a preventive step.
Credit freezes aren’t for everyone, especially those who plan to take out loans or other types of credit in the near future, but may be ideal for seniors who have no expected need for credit. All the bureaus make them easy to place and easy to lift temporarily if needed for a loan.
We have one suggestion for those who senior loved ones lock their credit files with a freeze. Upon doing so, the credit bureaus each provide a special code that is needed to remove the freeze, either temporarily or permanently. Given the importance of that code, it makes sense to offer to keep a copy for senior loved ones so that at least one of you have it when needed.
Replacement Credit Cards
If our credit cards are lost or stolen, we know to notify the issuers to have them canceled. Did you know issuers many cancel cards on their own if part of a data breach? When they are notified by a merchant or other entity that your card number may have been part of a data breach, the issuer will typically send you a card with a new number. Be sure to activate that right away and destroy the old card.
For many, though, getting a new credit card number means actions are needed beyond activation. If a card has been submitted for automatic payment of a bill, such as phone, cable, newspaper or one of many others, the new card number will need to be provided to avoid missed payments. Hopefully you know which payments are involved so you don’t find out when the company calls to say their payment submission with the old card was refused.
Could Senior Loved Ones Use Some Help?
Does all this sound like too much complication — too many things that can go wrong through no fault of our own? No argument here. It has become a fact of the times, unfortunately, so extra effort may be needed to try and avoid much more effort – and often cost – that may result from identity theft or misuse of credit cards and financial accounts.
This may be a topic to raise with senior loved ones from time to time so they are on the lookout for a data breach letter and not just toss it out as junk mail. If they do get one, you might want to suggest the steps needed in response or even work through the process with them.
We don’t ask for the data breaches and can’t stop them – - but it’s in our interest and that of our family members that we take the steps needed to avoid the harm that may result.