Identity Theft; Coming soon to a life near you? FTC seeks help from Congress.

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Face it, our information is out there. As information continues to dribble out about recently reported massive data breaches, news of a data leak from the Texas Comptroller's office, has many people noticing the truth: we really have very little control over the security of our personal information and who obtains access to it. The Texas Comptroller's office reported that the personal data of about 3.5 million Texans was briefly leaked into publicly accessible areas of the Internet. Although the mistake was caught quickly, who knows whether any damage has been done? While there is no indication yet that the information is being used, it remains a fact that the names, addresses, and in some cases birth dates and social security numbers of millions of people were posted online. But data losses are not new. The occur on a regular basis in one way or another.

No matter how careful you are about your own information, this particular screw up and many others like it colorfully illustrate how the mistakes of others can put us at risk. How far do you go to protect your data? Do you refuse to bank online? Keep cryptic passwords and change them regularly? Do you avoid social networking sites or posting any personally identifying information online? No matter how careful you are, you are not immune from information leakage and identity theft.

No one can remain completely isolated. Even if you avoid online services and have never so much as touched a computer (and we know that in this age that is a bit unlikely), you probably have a bank account somewhere, and that bank has your social security number and your other information stored, yes, on their computer systems. No bank? Your job, then. Have you ever been sick? Hospitalized? Yes, your data is stored everywhere. Your place of employment likewise has all of your information stored in their databases, and those computers are almost certainly connected to the World Wide Web.

Even living at home, off the grid (you have to give your information to the electrical company otherwise) and growing all of your own food, your information is still not perfectly secure. Even the Amish must pay property taxes, and the government has shown that even their databases are not perfectly secure, and that laptops can be stolen and accidents can happen. There is, quite simply, no way to control all of your own information.

So what can you do? Rather than aggressively trying to prevent your information from being used anywhere, you should be focused on vigilance. Watch your credit reports (see how), your credit card statements, and your bank accounts for any unfamiliar activity. This is not terribly difficult to do on your own, until hit with the reality of a true identity theft. The thing is, today you have the ability to lighten the burden, reduce the risk and impact of fraud, and the time it takes to recover from it, --if you do so before damage is done! Do yourself a favor, take control of your life --before someone else does. If you don't take action now -then when?

Your data may be "out there" in the world, stored in computers you know nothing about, but a little caution online can keep the casual scammers, phishers and thieves at bay. Remain vigilant, and try not to worry. No one is immune from identity theft, but that doesn't mean that you have cause to panic about it, either. Just become aware of the risks and the options you have to lessen the blow.

An old Social Security card with the

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FTC seeks help from Congress to protect Social Security numbers

According to The Hill, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says businesses that rely on consumer accounts -- such as banks -- should have to meet higher standards to authenticate consumers' identity. They are calling upon Congress to "consider establishing national consumer authentication standards to verify that consumers are who they purport to be." They believe that tighter government restrictions that require more info than just a Social Security number when verifying an identity, would mitigate criminals' ability to steal people's identity when using that number alone.

Maneesha Mithal, an associate director at the FTC, told a Ways and Means subcommittee that thieves gather SSNs in a number of ways that range from high-tech, including "hacking, phishing, malware, spyware and keystroke loggers" to low-tech, such as "dumpster diving, stealing workplace records, stealing mail or wallets and accessing public records containing SSNs."

As criminals  continue to find new and innovative ways at getting their hands on our data, we must be vigilant in finding ways to thwart them. This legislation would be a step in the right direction.
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