February 18, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue I
Anthem Inc., parent of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, stated it had fallen victim to a massive data breach in which as many as 80 million current and former members’ and employees’ personal information may have been stolen. According to Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish, the hackers received access to names, birth dates, member IDs, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and employment information Wednesday, Feb. 4. However, Swedish stated that there was no evidence of credit card or medical information being stolen. The No. 2 U.S. health insurer has promised to provide free credit monitoring and identity protection services for the next two years for every customer whose information is at risk.
Unfortunately, Anthem customers are still in danger as a new email scam is being sent out to mine even more information from those targeted. The phishing email appears to be official Anthem communication containing credit monitoring or restoration services but instead delivers malware or asks for more information. Lawsuits have already been filed in several states, and more are surely to follow.
The definition of identity theft according to the Federal Trade Commission is “your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.” There are, however, a myriad of easy ways to secure one’s own identity and personal information. One should be careful to shred sensitive information before throwing it away, keep social security numbers in a safe place, avoid giving out credit card information over the phone, abstain from clicking on links provided in unsolicited emails, create varying and complex passwords, and inspect one’s credit report regularly as well as taking advantage of free credit reports.
“College campuses in particular seem to be at a higher risk and are targeted more often,” Kelly Fisher of the New College Police Department commented. “It’s extra important that college students keep an eye out, check your credit report, check your bank statements, keep everything in a secure location. In Hamilton Center a lot of students keep their mailboxes unlocked. Keep your mail secure because it’s easy for someone to just take your mail.” Fisher also advises against sharing one’s pin number with others, even friends, connecting to unknown WiFi networks, and to be cautious of one’s surroundings while withdrawing money from an ATM.
“If your identity is compromised, contact your financial institution first to get all your credit cards and debit cards cancelled, contact your local police department, and you would probably also want to contact the FBI, because they would be the ones to investigate.” Fisher was herself a victim of skimming in an airport terminal, and recommends aluminum cardholders that prevent the machines from accessing credit and debit card information. “Skimming is basically an electronic device that somebody would carry on them, they don’t even need to have it out in their hand, they could have it in their pocket, waistband, or purse and as you walk by it automatically pulls information from anything with a magnetic strip.”
Beyond the threat of identity theft, there are also a myriad of risks associated with social media that are not advertised when one signs up for services. Facebook, which boasts 1.35 billion monthly users, is a natural target for those looking to scour and misuse personal information. Although it is common knowledge that one should not share plans to be out of town, and to deny friend requests from strangers, there are many widely practiced and seemingly harmless habits that can put social media users at risk. Computer Weekly even advises against providing phone numbers, email addresses, or even dates of birth. Users are also advised to ignore links supposedly sent by friends, as they are often sent by hackers.
Past the threat of someone targeting another person, there exists in the world of social media the risk of self-incrimination. Often, users are not in full grasp of what is and is not available to the public on their Facebook profile and postings made by others are out of the user’s control unless the privacy settings are altered. A team of college students recently created a tool named Simplewash, previously Facewash, in order to combat this. The application searches Facebook for certain phrases and words that it believes could incriminate or simply embarrass the user. It is programed to find any and all profanity, drug references and even comments that might be considered offensive. This is especially useful to those concerned with an upcoming application to a job or internship. A similar application is Socioclean, which sells the same service particularly tailored to college students. Despite these helpful applications, a general safeguard to fraud and any unwanted exposure is to simply refrain from sharing your information anywhere on the Internet.
“You just have to be aware, the main thing is just don’t share your information with anyone,” Fisher noted. “It’s one of those things you don’t think about too much but it’s ten million people a year.”
Enrollment information for Anthem’s free services is available at anthemfacts.com.
A call to any one of the following numbers can provide a 90 day fraud alert:
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Information taken from