Reports of data breaches increased 47 percent in 2008, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. The number of breaches reported jumped from 446 in 2007 to 656.
Data breach involves secure information being released on the Internet, transferred to information systems or other non-secure locations.
According to the consumer organization Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a total of 227 million individual records containing sensitive personal information were involved in security breaches in the U.S. between January 2005 and May 2008, excluding incidents where sensitive data were apparently not actually exposed. The ITRC says almost 36 million records were exposed in 2008.
Breaches put people at greater risk for ID theft. The more information exposed, the greater the chance that a person’s identity can be used illegally.
Identity theft involves an impostor obtaining key pieces of personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers and uses them for their own personal gain, usually financial.
The California Office of Privacy Protection says there were 8.1 million U.S. residents who were victims of identity theft in 2007. That represents 3.6 percent of adults, including more than a million Californians. The total cost of identity theft in 2007 was $45 billion.
According to various studies, including the FTC complaint study, the 18- to 29-year-old age group accounts for almost 30 percent of all identity theft complaints.
Experts state there are many possible reasons that put younger people at risk. More activity in applying for credit and new accounts, inexperience with monitoring credit, address changes (that leave important documents in other locations during the summer) and use of online networking sites that include disclosure of personal information are a few.
Even with these risks, California law helps to protect youth.
“California colleges have student ID numbers, not Social Security numbers, so this takes away a possible risk area,” said Linda Foley of the ITRC. “Students should know that they don’t have to give out their Social Security number because unless it’s involving financial aid your student ID will do.”
There is also the fact that new technology makes it easier for thieves to steal vital information.
“There is a very outdated view that as long as your wallet isn’t stolen, you won’t be a victim,” said Dawanesha Smith of the Los Angeles County ID Theft Unit, part of the department of Consumer Affairs. “Because of wireless devices, your information can be stolen without you even knowing it.“
Skimming devices can steal your account information, duplicating your credit card number. If not by cash, Smith says credit is a better option than debit because credit cards are more protected by law since debit cards automatically deduct money.
On the positive side, Smith says that the issue is gaining visibility because there are so many threatened a year.
Being proactive is a way to protect sensitive information.
“The dorms and apartments are very open spaces, so you should be careful about what you leave lying around,” said Joanne McNabb of the California Office of Privacy Protection. “Shredding papers that have your date of birth and [SSN] on them, as well as filing them away, is a good plan.“
The financial, banking and credit industries have remained the most proactive groups in terms of data protection over the past few years. The Government and Military category has dropped nearly 50 percent since 2006, moving from the highest number of breaches to the third highest. As the chart indicates, the business community still needs to enhance and enforce data security measures.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protect yourself from ID theft
Though there is the risk of ID theft from companies‘ security breaches, there is also a risk of having one’s information taken individually. Experts have tips for college students in particular on how to protect themselves.
1. Don’t give out your Social Security number.
2. Keep documents secure.
3. Try to pay with cash.
4. Review your credit report regularly to catch any suspicious activity: free on annualcreditreport.com.
5. Use safe online practices. Use different passwords for accounts and have up-to-date security software.
6. Opt out of pre-approved credit offers: call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). People can use your information from these.
7. Be aware of your environment. Watch your laptop and wallet with personal information.
8. Educate yourself about phishing e-mails and other risks by visiting ITRC’s website (idtheftcenter.org) and others.