Identity crisis By David Wight IDENTITY THEFT was already a growing threat before the popularity of social net- works sweetened the pot for cyber criminals. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, two out of three online U.S. house- holds use Twitter, Facebook or similar net- works, and as many as 40 percent of those users have been naive enough to share their full birthdate—a vital piece of information for identity thieves. Through Costco’s identity-protection provider, Intersections Inc., we were able to interview their consumer security adviser Neal O’Farrell, a 30-year veteran in the secu- rity industry and a vocal advocate for con- sumer identity-theft education. The Costco Connection: Identity is a more complicated concept, given all the life- style enhancements in this digital age. What do we need to understand in order to protect our identities? Neal O’Farrell: There are three things that have happened in the last couple of years that have changed the whole identity-theft arena. First, obviously, is the unavoidable growth in the use of consumer information. Your personal information is a commodity to thousands of companies, and the more they share and use it, the more it becomes vulner- able to exploitation and theft. Second, we are too willing to give away our information. We don’t wait for it to be sto- len. Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are treasure troves for identity thieves. Recently, Facebook made the top 10 of the most phished Web sites on the planet. The thieves go where the crowds are. Third is the growing sophistication of organized crime. Identity theft in the old days was pretty unsophisticated, which explains its growth. Anyone could do it. But in the last 18 months, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in the involvement of organized crime, and they are running circles around the security industry, with very sophisticated tactics. CC: Is it younger people who are more willing to give away information, because older people seem less inclined to use social networks? NO: Yes, when it comes to social net- working, but there is a scam for every age group. We know of gangs and scams that are specifically targeted at seniors and elders. Younger people are more drawn to social networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter. They are typically less cautious and are less worried about the future. If their credit score goes south because of unauthorized activity that generates a negative score, they figure they can fix it. There isn’t an urgency to avoid things that can cause harm. Younger people also don’t realize how sophisticated scams have become. The thieves are not going to come knocking on your door, introduce themselves as thieves and ask you to reveal your information. They will come disguised as friends, and you’re willing to share as much information as possible with your friends because that’s the whole goal of social networking. CC: What is the importance of timeliness in discovering and reporting that your ID has been stolen? NO: The key is fast response. Most peo- ple don’t check their credit reports, where they might see the first sign of a problem. Instead, it will be some signal that things aren’t right, such as a call from a debt collector or a bill or e-mail indicating that they’d pur- chased something. Then [notices] will come in like an avalanche—multiple calls from debt collectors, multiple accounts opened. If the consumer is vigilant, the thief has a very small window of opportunity—days or weeks—to use a stolen identity. For a con- sumer not monitoring their credit reports, the window of opportunity for the thief is vast, possibly years. The whole idea of monitoring your credit reports and protecting your computer [is to keep] these threats away from your online life. If you can get out of the way before the ava- lanche hits, you’ll survive it better. C Note: Costco does not sell member information. Dealing with the risks of identity theft in the digital age
The Costco Connection
Costco’s identity protection service, Identity
Guard®, is provided by Intersections Inc. Costco
members can choose between two solutions.
With Credit Protection, the basic features
include a monthly credit report/score upon
request, monitoring of three credit bureaus and
a three-in-one credit report with score.
With TOTAL PROTECTIONSM, the basic
features include monitoring of three credit
bureaus, a three-in-one credit report with score,
Internet surveillance, public-records report
and monitoring, quarterly credit update and
$1 million loss-reimbursement insurance.
Executive Members save more. For com-
plete information or to sign up, visit Costco.com
and search “total protection.”
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