New reports show that the number of people affected by the recent data breach that occurred in the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) continues to increase. But as Congress debates a way to protect the 21.5 million victims from future security risks, it faces a hard truth: it may not be entirely possible for the government to do this through new funding.
“There may be some things we can’t compensate for,” House minority whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said. “Clearly if credit is breached, we can compensate for that. But there may be other things that might be more difficult to make people whole.”
The problem stems from the fact that federal officials are still not entirely sure what the thieves plan to do with all the information they stole. In addition to financial data, the government believes that hackers also took SF-86 forms that detailed personal histories of government employees, including such details as drug problems and mental health issues. The worry is that this could lead to instances of blackmail that threaten national security, in addition to identity theft that may ruin the victims’ credit scores. While Congress considers funding identity theft financial protection, members are increasingly aware that a significant burden still falls on the victims to protect themselves.
“Every government employee, every victim, and every immediate family member of a victim need[s] the training to recognize potential threats emerging from the compromised information,” read a report on the hack by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology. “Training remains the easiest and best strategy to mitigate adverse effects of the OPM breach such as insider threats, spearphishing emails, social engineering or future breaches.”
In so many ways, identity theft victims pay a high price for a crime that, often, no one can see coming. One day out of the blue, they might notice a new credit line opened in their name with thousands of dollars in bills already built up. If not addressed quickly, identity theft can not only rob victims of their savings, but also make it extremely difficult to access credit for years to come. Having a Social Security Number, personal medical history or even a home address compromised can make things even worse.
Even if you do not immediately see the signs of identity theft, you may suspect that you have recently become a victim if a business you shop at or your place of employment has suffered a data breach. In these situations, it is important to act quickly to contain the damage. Notify all of your financial institutions and place a freeze on your credit reports to slow down the pace of ID theft and begin the process of resolving it and repairing your credit.
The steps needed to respond to identity theft generally require potential victims to be proactive and vigilant about their credit scores and history. Consider signing up for a credit monitoring services, which can alert you in the event that certain activity possibly indicative of fraud appears on your credit files and prepare you to take action.