Tens of millions of Americans could be victims of the latest corporate data breach, this one at Anthem Insurance. Unknown hackers apparently stole personal identifying information from current and former Anthem customers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other information that can be used for identity theft.
Anthem has set up a separate website with information on the breach, but the Better Business Bureau recommends that consumers always go to a company’s main website first and follow links from there. Scammers often take advantage of data breaches and subsequent confusion to set up spoof websites and send phishing emails.
BBB offers the following suggestions for consumers concerned that their personal information has been stolen (also available at bbb.org/breach):
Do not take a wait-and-see approach as you may have done with breaches involving credit card data. You must act quickly. Breaches involving Social Security numbers have the potential to be far more detrimental to victims, and the damage can be difficult to repair.
Consider taking a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts but will create a roadblock for thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information. Security freezes should be completed with each of the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and Transunion.
At a minimum, if you know your Social Security number has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. While less effective than a freeze, this will provide an extra layer of protection.
Take advantage of the free credit monitoring services Anthem will be offering to breach victims. While this is not a preventative measure, this will alert you to new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so that you can act quickly to repair the damage.
Vigilance is key. Regularly check your credit reports at www.annual creditreport.com for unauthorized charges or other signs of fraud. Note: This is the only free credit report option authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on repairing the damage caused by identity theft, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources page under the tips and advice section of ftc.gov.
Expect that scammers will take advantage of this data breach to send out phishing emails and other messages that appear to be from Anthem, a credit bureau or other legitimate companies. Do not click on links from any email, text or social media messages about this or any other data breach.
For all businesses that collect customer information:
Make sure you protect your customers’ data. If a data breach can happen to a major corporation with significant data security measures in place, it can happen to any business.
Check out BBB’s updated online guide bbb.org/data-security for free information on how to create a data security plan.
We have to face the fact that data breaches are now a part of our lives and prepare for them early, because it isn’t a question of “if” you’re affected but of “when” you’re affected.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at 478-742-7999, www.bbb.org or by emailing email@example.com.