Almost one year ago, a serious security breach at health insurer Anthem Inc. resulted in the exposure of millions of records. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal at the time, hackers broke into a database and were able to steal birthdays, addresses and Social Security Numbers. Though they were not able to access credit or debit card information, it’s clear that the data they did access was more than enough to commit identity theft.
In fact, in many ways, the type of information stolen made the incident worse. Loss of a credit or debit card number can be remedied by notifying your financial institution and quickly cancelling and replacing the card. It’s much harder to change your address, and no matter how much you might want to, you can’t change your birthday.
In the immediate aftermath of the breach, Anthem executives could not determine exactly how many customers were affected. Later, however, it became clear that as many as 80 million people may have had some personal information stolen. Now that this data is out in the world, the affected individuals could face the potential of identity theft for years afterward.
One thing that Anthem did right was publicly acknowledging the breach shortly after discovering it. This has not always been a common practice among major firms that have suffered similar breaches, and that silence has typically allowed thieves to take advantage of the information they stole long before anyone discovered that anything was amiss. By getting out in front of the news, Anthem made it possible for victims to act.
What to do after a data breach
Having your information stolen may result in attempted credit fraud or identity theft, but these attempts might not be successful if victims take quick action to head them off.
- Use free credit reports. It is critical for all individuals who have been affected by data breaches to take advantage of the free credit reports offered by the three major credit reporting agencies.
- File your taxes early. One common tactic used by identity thieves is to file a tax return under your name and claim a refund before you have a chance to do it yourself. The IRS has a limited ability to tell who is actually filing the return, so you’ll need to be quick.
- Protect your family. If your personal information is stolen, you aren’t the only one at risk. Your family members may also face ID theft , especially young children. Since parents rarely, if ever, check their children’s credit reports, they may have no way of knowing about fraudulent activity.
- Sign up for credit monitoring . Services that monitor your credit can alert you promptly should they detect certain activity in your credit files that may indicate fraud, giving you the chance to react and minimize the damage an identity thief could wreak on your finances. Good credit monitoring services also monitor your Social Security Number and public record, and provide you with software tools like keystroke encryption or anti-virus.
The Anthem breach was costly in money, time and company reputation. The firm will certainly work to boost its security efforts in the years ahead. Even so, customers will have to take some responsibility for their own safety.