I work in the computer services industry. As part of that industry I am well aware of the regulations imposed on businesses to protect their customers' data. I'm not a big government fan. However, I do believe one of the responsibilities of the government is to protect its citizens. To that extent, I believe most of these regulations are at least justified in spirit, even if they have holes in practicality.
These government regulations are better than not having any regulations at all. However, most of these regulations simply require companies to self-monitor themselves. They require companies to put together an identity theft program, but the requirements of that program are fairly vague. Even more vague is any means that the government has to make sure any such program is being followed. Take a look at what is required by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) and see how safe it makes you feel.
Personally, I think the government has done what it should do. It has set minimum guidelines and expects companies to be responsible and put these programs into place. The companies need to be responsible and do what is needed to protect their customers' information. If a company does not do what is needed, they'll eventually get burned and then have law suits and a damaged reputation that may destroy their business.
It is all well and good that the government and the business community are taking some measures to address the identity theft risks. However, the real responsibility for protecting your personal information and your identity falls on you. You're the one with the most to lose if someone steals your personal information and proceeds to wreck havoc with your life.
The FTC released a report last year that showed 8.3 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2005. In discussing the report, Lydia B. Parnes, the Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, had this to say:
"Whether you're from Malibu or Manhattan, Tacoma or Tallahassee, no one is immune to identity theft. The important thing is that people learn how to deter identity thieves, detect suspicious activity on their financial records, and defend against the crime, should it happen."
Notice that she did not say that the FTC is going to increase its efforts to protect you or that businesses are improving their consumer information protection processes. I'm sure that the government and responsible companies are going to do what they can. However, even a government agency is sending a clear message that the ultimate responsibility for the protection of your personal information falls on you.
If you do a Google search you can find many sites providing advice on how you can protect your identity. I found a nice summary on the Sallie Mae web site.
- Guard your Social Security number - don't carry your SSN card or print your number on your bank checks
- Pick passwords carefully - avoid using personal names, birthdays, consecutive numbers and use a mix of letters and numbers
- Pay attention to your mail and trash - tear or shred charge receipts, copies of credit card offers, insurance forms, and bank statements
- Check your credit reports for unauthorized activity - the three national bureaus must provide you a free credit report every 12 months if you as them each year for it
- Common sense
- be careful with online shopping. Only use secure sites
- Don't sign-up of unfamiliar contests
- Be wary of telephone solicitors
So what happens if you do all of these precautions and still become a victim of identity theft? You need to notify all of your credit card companies, banks, the credit agencies, etc... You'll need to work it out with any businesses where the thief used your identity to purchase goods with your credit. You'll need to work with the banks and credit agencies to try to repair your credit history if damaged.
I've decided get professional help to assist me in protecting myself and my family from identity theft as well as assisting me in dealing with the problem should it ever occur. I think of it as a $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy. I have decided to subscribe with LifeLock for identity theft protection for my entire family. Yes, even your children are at risk. It can be even worse for your kids because identity theft could go unnoticed for a long period of time.
Whatever you decide to do, you need to do something. Your identity protection is ultimately your own responsibility. Educate yourself on the risks and then protect yourself and your family.