EDITORIAL: An unnerving sign of the times that impacts all

April 6, 2014 

If we needed more evidence that we are living in a brave new world where technology threads through every aspect of our lives, there was another reminder last week. The new Macon-Bibb County government revealed that it had sprung an information leak and some personal information of potential employees was available on the Internet. The county’s Information Technology Department has plugged this leak, but others are sure to follow. It is the age we live in.

There is no indication that this leak was due to nefarious activity, but it’s difficult to tell. The IT Department was made aware of the leak by an anonymous tip.

Last holiday season, there was a huge data breach (110 million) of Target customers and at Neiman Marcus stores (1.1 million). According to IBM, “studies show that companies are attacked on average of 2 million times a week, and many of those attacks result in a quantifiable data breach.” IBM went on to point out that data streaming between all the devices -- computers, tablets, mobile phones and cloud computing -- has accelerated the number of cyber attacks. IBM also said that such data breaches where there was a loss had increased 38 percent during 2012. According to CSID, the average data breach costs a company $7.2 million.

The Identity Theft Resource Center “recorded 614 breaches on the 2013 ITRC Breach List, a dramatic increase of 30 percent over the total number of breaches tracked in 2012. The Health-care sector accounted for 43.8 percent...”

Many of those breaches impacted more than 500 individual records. Our information is out there for all to see, and it seems readily available to those who would do us financial harm. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 11.6 million identity theft victims in 2013 that cost $21 billion, a 38 percent increase over 2010. Guarding our data is particularly important during tax season. The IRS has warned us to guard tax data carefully. If consumers use tax preparation services, they need to stay away from fly-by-night operations that could be a front for identity thieves. What else can we do?

While retailers and others are doing everything they know how to do to stem the tide of data from their outlets, there are many steps we can take personally. As the old saying goes, people will try to burglarize our homes, but we don’t have to leave the door open. Here are a few simple steps, according to TransUnion:

• Do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

• Your trash is their treasure. Shred receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, returned checks and any other sensitive information.

Identity theft and hacking are here to stay. Why would a thief risk confrontation when they can pick our pockets without being noticed?

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