Hacking, Data Theft, And Why Adam Levin Scared the S**t Out of Me

    
My friends and family sometimes tease me about being an optimist – seeing the world as a better place than it really is. 

Well, last week the guy here in the photo turned me into a gloomy pessimist about the dangers of hacking and the data theft. Unless our security systems get better fast, mayhem might be around the corner. The threat to individuals, businesses, the government, and the financial system is scary. 

After years of thinking that Adam Levin was perhaps was a little bit alarmist on the subject, I’ve come around to his way of thinking.  Adam, who’s the co-founder and Chairman of credit.com and the security firm IDT 911, has turned me into a hacking hawk. 

“This is a pandemic,” he said this week on our podcast How Do We Fix It?  “It’s depressing when people say there’s fear-mongering going on in the identity theft world. There isn’t enough fear-mongering.” 

He’s right.  We’ve been inundated with the shock-horror of over-the-top news media coverage about the omnipresent threat of criminals, rapists, and child abductors lurking in our midst.  But arguably, not enough has been made of criminals and spies breaking into the computer systems that all of us rely on.  

Only last week, the head of The Office of Personnel Management was finally forced to resign after it was revealed that highly sensitive personal data involving more than 22 million people was stolen. 

A couple of weeks ago, Fortune published a hair raising account of last November’s break-in at Sony Pictures. The attack was a huge embarrassment for the firm as private emails became a matter of public gossip and scandal. For several weeks, one of the biggest players in Hollywood was forced back to an era of faxes and typewriters. Its computer systems were frozen.

We are all at risk of being victims.

So how do you reduce your threat?  Adam says we all need to consider that this is a potential threat to our money, property and privacy. Here are some of the tips that he recommends.

– Remember the 3Ms. MINIMIZE your risk of exposure

Don’t carry your social security card with you, in case your wallet or purse is stolen.  Limit the number of credit and debit cards that you have.  Secure your computer and smartphone with strong passwords. Be careful about giving your social security number to any business or health care provider that does not really need it. 
– MONITOR your personal finances.  Get a free credit report every year at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.  Also, go http://www.credit.com and other sites and get a free reading of your credit score.  Check your bank and other financial accounts as frequently as possible.

– If you become an identity theft victim, MANAGE the damage. Adam says there are programs to help consumers. Some are free through your work or insurance company.  Identity protection services offer instant alerts in case someone tries to apply for credit using your name.  The Consumer Federation of America has a helpful site: http://www.idtheftinfo.org.

– Credit cards offer more protections for consumers. “With a credit card, it’s their money. With a debit card it’s your money,” says Adam. If you’re a victim of debit card fraud it can take 7-10 days for the bank to return the money to your account. 

– If anyone calls you and starts asking for your information, hang up. Don’t give it to them. Use as many different passwords as you can for websites that you visit.

Two years ago Edward Snowden started a worldwide debate about Government snooping and  surveillance.  Today, there needs to be a similar outcry over the threat data theft presents to our privacy and security.

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