Identity Theft

Tens of millions of people may have had information stolen, including their names, Social Security numbers and birth dates, when health insurer Anthem’s database was hacked.

Having your identity stolen is a frustrating, panic-inducing prospect.

The Anthem breach is just the latest in a series of incidents in which big corporations have been hacked. Retailers like Target and Home Depot, even entertainment companies like Sony, have reported thefts. For people who have had their information stolen, there are all kinds of worries.

The Anthem breach did not appear to expose the medical records of policyholders, according to the company. But the other information that was stolen is plenty useful for bad guys. Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal, says the information obtained by the hackers “is very helpful. It would show not only a Social Security number of an innocent person, but the fact that you have Anthem coverage. So I would think that the biggest danger is that the malefactors will use this to get medical care in the name of somebody else.”

Another worry: Smith says criminals could use the information over the phone to convince banks or stores to open new accounts or make purchases.

Anthem is offering its policyholders free access to a credit monitoring service. If you’re really worried, you can take the step of putting a freeze on your credit record to prevent anyone from opening a new account. Another recommendation; avoid giving out your Social Security number at all, if possible. Getting a new Social Security number requires a lot of paperwork, including evidence of problems caused by misuse. Even then, Fergerson says, a new number is not always helpful. “The credit bureaus and banks are able to link the new number very quickly to the old number, so all of that old bad information is quickly inherited into the new Social Security number,” she says. “So even when you go through the painful effort of doing it, it really doesn’t help the victim of identity theft.”

Fergerson says the best advice for people who feel their information may have been stolen is to be vigilant.

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David Wingate is an elder law attorney and practices in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland. His practice includes wills, power of attorneys, trusts, asset protection and Medicaid.

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