While my heart goes out to all the Americans affected by hurricane Sandy, this will clearly not be an article about the “Frankenstorm”. And that`s because every news channel, radio station and newspaper in the world (including the online ones) are covering this disaster minute by minute. And they’re doing a great job.
So I`m not going to try to compete with them, but I`m not going to write on a comfortable subject, either. In fact, it`s about the fastest growing crime of the century: identity theft.
In case you haven`t watched the video, here`s what it was all about: a hacker entered the Department of Revenue system and stole over 75% of South Carolina social security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers.
Now, I know a brilliant kid with a super computer can break into the NASA system if he wants to. And there`s pretty much nothing anyone can do about it, but arrest him after he`s done playing and/or thank him for showing them all their security problems. But this is not exactly the case here.
You see, this hacker entered South Carolina’s Department of Revenue system three times (!!) before the Secret Service noticed the breach, on October, 10. That left the hacker a good two months` time to steal all the data he pleased.
He made his first visit in August, when he just “snooped in” to see what goodies he can find. He came back twice in September, when he “filled his shopping cart” with all the social security numbers he could snatch plus a whole load of credit and debit card numbers.
According to rt.com, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was extremely worried about this incident and said it “requires an unprecedented, large-scale response by the Department of Revenue, the State of South Carolina and all our citizens”.
I don`t know if that was supposed to be comforting for the identity theft victims, since the Secret Service decided it was a good idea to keep the incident a secret until October, 27. After all, the only thing at stake was 3,6 million lives.No biggy.
And if it only were the first time it something like this happens. But earlier this year, one of Utah`s health department was hacked and over 900 000 people were victims of identity theft. According to Spyware Help Center,“these health files include such personal data as: full names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers”.
According to recent studies, the fastest growing crime in USA makes about 15 million victims annually, with total financial losses reaching $50 billion. Also, as identitytheft.com reports, almost 100 million Americans have their personal identification data at risk, due to major security problems (or total lack of security).
If you were to write down all the systems that stock your personal information (banks, health systems, governmental departments and so on), you`d immediately realise that your life is out on the table, for hackers to snack on.
And what I find absolutely despicable: their favorite victims are children. An All Clear ID study estimates that 1 in 10 US children are victims of identity theft, but they usually only realise it when they go to college or apply for their first loan. In most cases, they discover they`ve got some huge debt to pay, even though they`ve never bought anything expensive in their lives. And by expensive I mean cars, houses and luxury holidays. Obviously, hackers don`t steal other people`s personal data to buy grocery.
But here`s exactly how sneky they are when it comes to stealing another person`s life:
According to ABC news, “they’ll use your child’s Social Security number with a different name and a different birth date (…) So if you pull a credit report, the credit report is looking for a specific name and the birthday that goes with it. And so you won’t find it. You’ll get “file not found,” and you’ll feel safe.”
But is there anything you can do about it?
In the past years, there`s been an explosion of identity theft protection services. You can find the best systems compared and reviewed here, if you`re interested. But here`s the thing: as long as public services, such as health care systems or the Department of Revenue don`t fix their security problems, our trials to protect ourselves and our kids will most likely be in vain.
As About.com very well puts it, “high technology will continue to grow as a risk for the average consumer. Mobile technologies like our cell phones and tablet computers are expected to continue to move forward faster than the protections for them.”
And that applies to data systems, too. Although there is one tiny difference: our data systems do not evolve at all, while hackers find new and more efficient ways to steal information and use it against American citizens. Other than that, we`re living the American dream, as usual.
Stay informed and create your own custom survival plan. Anne Sunday is a writer and researcher for My Family Survival Plan.
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Contributed by Anne Sunday of My Family Survival Plan.