By now, news of a major corporation like a retail chain or internet-based platform being hacked is hardly news. Companies like Target have been attacked in recent months, and the end result was that millions of customers’ personally identifiable information fell into the wrong hands. How a company responds to this kind of data breach is important, and it can tell consumers a lot about the type of corporation with whom they are doing business.

Typically, when a data breach occurs, a company alerts its customers so they can be vigilant about securing their personal information. This lets those customers whose accounts have been compromised keep a close eye on their bank accounts, their credit card statements, even their credit reports. If the customers do find suspicious activity involving their finances or identities, they can take swift action instead of waiting to find out after months of nefarious spending has happened.

Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a mind-set to downplay an incident or minimize the so-called “bad press” that stems from this kind of hacking event. In those cases, corporations sit on the information and consumers are none the wiser, which can lead to a farther reaching net of criminal activity involving the accessed information.

One such company is eBay. When a cyberattack led to the breach of some 145 million user accounts during the week of May 19th, eBay’s response was to wait several days and then post a cryptic message about the breach on its lesser-trafficked corporate website. After widespread complaints about the message that simply told users to change their PayPal passwords, only then did eBay admit to the breach on the main website, almost a week after the attack.

How serious was the cyberattack? Names, addresses, emails, home phone numbers, and encrypted passwords were accessed, all of which were tied to users’ PayPal accounts. Those accounts are also linked to the users’ bank accounts in order to send and receive payments.

So how are consumers supposed to trust corporations if their interests aren’t being looked after in a timely way? First, and this may seem unfair, the only way to know for certain that you’re being kept in the loop about your safety and security is to assume that companies won’t tell you about a data breach, either because it’s bad for business or because they simply don’t know about it themselves. Taking action like not providing all of your information without just cause can help, such as not providing your real birthdate to social media sites or not giving your home phone number to retail companies.

Savvy consumers have actually started to keep smaller accounts for their online transactions, such as keeping a bank account that isn’t connected to your main checking and savings accounts, or signing up for a low-balance credit card for online use only. Those are tedious steps, but they can help minimize the damage and the work that you have to put into clearing up the effects of a corporate cyberattack.

Make changing your passwords from time to time a part of your online behavior. Frequent password changes can help you stay ahead of any damage an identity thief may attempt. Of course, passwords can only work securely if you use different passwords on different websites, and if you make sure that they are strong, untraceable combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use an app that stores all of your passwords in your phone or tablet, and make sure that you don’t check the box to remember your password on any computer or device that can be accessed by others.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.

Most tech-savvy consumers are aware of the dangers of sharing personal information online. By now, the horror stories of stolen identities have circulated far enough that (hopefully) and internet-based request for your Social Security number or checking account number would be an automatic red flag.

But with the seemingly daily reports of hackers working their way into major corporate accounts, consumers are becoming more and more wary of even using their cards in physical locations. Target is one of the largest and most widely recognized companies to have suffered an account breach that left an unknown number of customers’ accounts at risk; citizens in California who used the state’s streamlined online payment system to renew their driver’s licenses and license plates were possibly at risk of having their account information stolen. The extent of the damage in both of those cases is still uncalculated, and they are far from alone.

Short of never shopping or renewing your license again, what’s a consumer to do?

First, you can take preventive measures by keeping your accounts and your passwords secure. Don’t follow the increasingly popular trend of generating one password that only changes one letter or number for each different site you use; that practice is courting identity theft danger, especially if you’re consistent about it.

Also, be sure to keep routine tabs on your accounts. Don’t wait for an evening news story to tell you that your personal information may have been accessed. Read your account statements carefully to look for suspicious activity, and check your credit report each year to ensure that no new credit cards have been opened in your name without your knowledge.

There are a few proactive things you can do as well. With the availability of free checking accounts and low-interest credit cards, some savvy shoppers have taken to establishing low-limit accounts that they use specifically for online transactions. By linking the smaller cards or checking accounts to their online shopping and then only transferring money to those accounts when they make purchases online, they’re limiting the amount of damage and hassle that a thief can cause.

Questions about identity theft? Connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, live chat feature or on-the-go through our IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

The number of UPMC employees that have been affected by a recent data breach at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center now stands at 322, the hospital system said last week.  That appears to be in addition to more than 1,300 current and former patients the center has also informed of the breach through their notification letter.

The breach allowed someone to use the employees’ and patients’ personal information to electronically file fraudulent income tax returns.  Officials said they are trying to determine the source of the ID theft and are working with the FBI, IRS, postal inspectors, and the Secret Service. The U.S. Attorney’s Office inPittsburgh confirmed it opened an investigation.  The information compromised includes names, dates of birth, contact information, treatment and diagnosis information, and Social Security numbers.

According to the letter, those affected are spread across several UPMC locations.  In a statement, UPMC stressed the stringent protocols they use to keep patient and employee information safe.  They did not give specific details on how the breach occurred, or what steps are being taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. Identity crimes surrounding fraudulent tax returns are unfortunately becoming increasingly common, as a recent report from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General can attest.  According to the audit, in the first six months of 2013, 1.6 million taxpayers were affected by identity theft.  That’s a huge increase in the number of incidences in only a few short years.

In response to the breach, UPMC has established a payroll hotline, published information for employees on the company’s internal website, hired a tax firm to help employees complete an IRS identity theft form, and will reimburse employees up to $400 to use their own accountant. Additionally, UPMC will provide credit monitoring services to the affected employees and reimburse them if they have to pay for police reports.

In the wake of the breach, two former employees have filed suit against the Medical Center.  The three-count lawsuit claims negligence, invasion of privacy and breach of implied contract. According to the language in the suit, plaintiffs allege that UPMC’s computer system allowed for the breach and the company did not reasonably safeguard the sensitive information in its care. The plaintiffs are seeking credit monitoring services for 10 years and unspecified damages, costs and legal fees. Attorney Elizabeth Pollock-Avery from the downtown Pittsburgh firm of Kraemer, Manes & Associates, LLC filed the complaint on behalf of the two plaintiffs.

If you have questions relating to this or any other data breach, please feel free to contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at (888) 400-5530.  You can also get free information from the website at www.idtheftcenter.org.

“University of Pittsburgh Medical Center the Latest Victim of Data Breach was written by Matt Davis.  Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.

New Mexico may be joining the 46 other states in the nation that have a state data breach notification law dictating when and how entities that suffer data breaches must report the incident. State representative William R. Rehm introduced the Data Breach Notification Act (HB 224) on January 29, 2014 and the House recently passed the bill in February.

The bill would require companies to “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information to protect the personal identifying information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure”. When personal identifying information is to be disposed, the bill mandates that the disposal procedure “make the personal identifying information unreadable or undecipherable”via “shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying” the information.

In addition to the data security requirements imposed upon the entity which maintains personal identifying information, the bill requires any entity that discloses personal identifying information “pursuant to a contract” require the third party recipient to comport with the same standard of data security set by this bill.

The Data Breach Notification Act establishes strict requirements regarding notification to consumers of a data breach. The bill implements a ten-day deadline for a breached entity to notify the victims of the data breach unless a law enforcement agency determines the notification “will impede a criminal investigation; or the notification will impede efforts to determine the scope of the security breach and restore the integrity, security and confidentiality of the data system”.

The bill requires the data breach notification contain:

  • The name and contact information of the entity
  • A list of the types of personal identifying information that was breached
  • Date of the security breach
  • A general description of the data breach
  • A statement clarifying whether the notification was delayed for any reason
  • Toll free telephone numbers and addresses of the three credit reporting agencies
  • Advice directing the victim to review personal account statements and credit reports
  • Advice explaining the victim’s rights under the Fair Credit Reporting and Identity Security Act

Should a notification of a data breach be required for more than 50 New Mexico residents, the entity would also have to provide notification to the New Mexico Attorney General and all consumer reporting agencies within ten days. Section 10 of the bill has an interesting requirement that when an entity is breached and the compromised data included credit card numbers or debit card numbers, the entity would have to provide notice to the merchant service providers to which the payment card data was transmitted. We will keep a close eye on the progress of this bill as it moves to the Senate for review.

“Data Breach Notification Bill Introduced in New Mexico” was written by Sam Imandoust, Esq., CIPP, CIPA. He serves as a legal analyst for the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.

A recent incident in South Korea gave us all a look at how countries react differently to the theft of consumer information through a breach of a large corporate entity.  In the U.S. and many other western economies, while the consumer population becomes ever more cognizant of the risks associated with a data breach, most of the major corporate offenders seem content with writing a mass apology letter before shrugging and moving forward with business as usual.

They may even offer credit monitoring or a discount before looking to turn the page…assuming they report the breach to begin with of course. Not so on the Korean Peninsula. They don’t mess around. South Korea’s financial services regulators announced Sunday that three firms, two of which are major 
conglomerates (KB Financial Group, owner of South Korea’s largest bank, KB Kookmin, and Tokyo-based supermarket giant, Lotte Group), all lost consumer data following data breaches last year.  As a result, the regulators announced that all three will be prohibited from issuing new credit cards or loans until mid-May, effectively preventing them from doing business at all for the first five months of the year.  This is a cost to each company in the many millions of dollars. This punishment was handed down even after the alleged thieves were arrested.  And the punitive steps didn’t end there.

Executives at the three companies involved had to demonstrate their regret to the public by making bows and personal apologies on national TV. Some executives even reportedly resigned out of shame over the theft. While most countries don’t require such punitive actions after a data breach, to say that laws are getting more restrictive all across the globe is not an overreaching statement.

In the EU, legislation has been proposed to create a uniform code for data breach notification across all member countries. While this is still in the discussion phase, the fact that EU member countries are concerned and taking action bodes well, and most experts believe that some sort of uniform law will be in effect in the next few years. In Japan, the government is specifically targeting financial firms, raising the penalty for not disclosing when an individual user’s data has been breached from 500 yen to 10,000 yen ($75) per user.  Multiply that out by thousands or potentially even millions, if the breach is large enough, and you’re talking about a very large financial deterrent where there wasn’t really one before.

Even in China, a government that usually looks at anything that may increase the cost of doing business as something to avoid the way one might seek to avoid the plague, is throwing its hat in the ring.  In recent months, the Chinese government has devoted a significant amount of attention to protecting personal information through numerous new data regulations, seeking to prevent and punish the illegal use of one’s personal information for profit. With many of the economically viable nations in the world becoming aware of, and trying to rectify the problem of data security, it is hoped that criminals that operate in the cracks between the laws of nations may soon have much less space to hide.

“Data Breaches Worldwide – A Brief Look at How Other Nations Handle Data Breach Incidents” was written by Matt Davis.  Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.

On February 25, 2014, Hold Security, LLC announced that it had discovered almost 360 million stolen account credentials including email addresses and passwords and 1.25 billion records solely containing email addresses in just the first three weeks of February.

The massive discovery is a result of multiple data breaches that Hold Security, LLC is currently investigating. Hold Security, LLC believes the credentials stolen were likely stolen in breaches not yet publicly reported and the breached entities may not know that their customers’ information has been compromised yet.

What is different about this data breach is that these records contain email account credentials, or usernames and passwords. This doesn’t sound quite as dangerous as, say, the Target breach because the Target breach contained payment card data. The compromise of payment card data is certainly dangerous and has a lot of potential to cause damage to victims; however, email account credentials can be just as dangerous if not more so.

First, the email usernames and passwords can obviously be used to access the actual email accounts themselves. This is an unsettling consequence of the data breach and poses significant harm to the victims because email accounts generally have copious amounts of sensitive personal information. Think about what is stored in your email account. Think about how long you may have had this email account. How many times did you email financial documents, work documents, tax documents, private pictures, reminders of passwords to other accounts, bank information and more? Just the email account itself can be a treasure trove of sensitive personal information to an identity thief who knows how to abuse it.

Second, we are all guilty of recycling a password, using it across multiple accounts so it is easy to remember. Identity thieves know this, and will use the passwords found by Hold Security, LLC to attempt to gain access to other accounts the victim has created. These could be bank accounts, retirement accounts, eBay accounts, PayPal accounts, and a multitude of online shopping accounts. This kind of widespread account access would be devastating to a victim.

Third, the account credentials can be used for spam and other phishing scams. A phishing scam is when a thief sends an official looking email from a business or individual, requesting that the recipient either divulge sensitive personal information or click on a link that loads a virus onto their computer or smartphone. Phishing is a very common tactic used by identity thieves and is listed as one of the top scams of the year by the IRS.

We are bringing this information to your attention to remind everyone that it is not just your Social Security Number that is valuable to identity thieves. You must take a comprehensive approach to protecting yourself. This means that you are vigilant about protecting all your data, including your mail, Social Security Number, medical insurance card, account usernames and passwords, passports, financial documents, tax documents, medical records and the list goes on. You must cast a critical eye on all sources of information about yourself and constantly destroy anything that is not absolutely necessary. Cross-cut shred all unneeded paper documents, delete any electronic information, and safely store any sensitive personal information that you absolutely can’t do without and you will be well on your way to being one step ahead of identity thieves.

“Hold Security, LLC Discovers Massive List of Stolen Credentials” was written by Matt Davis.  Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.

As regular readers of the ITRC blog already know, data breaches can occur in a variety of ways.  Either by hacking, employee error or negligence, or some form of physical theft, access to customer information is given to criminals who may then use that information for illicit purposes.

The financial fallout of these breaches often leads to lawsuits which can cost the breached company serious dollars.  Below are some of the most expensive, high profile breaches in the past year and the litigation that resulted from them.

Target:  The Target data breach is almost certainly the largest and most visible cyber-attack since the breaches of Heartland Payment Systems or TJX. Currently the retail giant is facing a plethora of legal actions resulting from the breach of more than 40 million customers’ credit and debit card information.  Many of these lawsuits stem from accused negligence on the part of Target .  Banks associated with this breach assert that the necessity to issue new credit and debit cards, as well as cleaning up any resulting fraud, could end up costing them millions.

Neiman Marcus:  The Neiman Marcus data breach was perpetuated by hackers who stole personal information from more than 1.1 million debit and credit cards over a period of months.  It is generally assumed that the malware used for this breach was similar to that which was used to access  Target’s system.

There is currently a pending lawsuit alleging that Neiman Marcus knew about the stolen information but waited several weeks before informing affected consumers.  According to most data breach notification laws, the only relevant reason for waiting to notify affected consumers is if to do so would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation or expose some national security objective.

Michaels:  Michaels Arts and Crafts Supply Store is also facing a pending class-action lawsuit due to the fallout of a data breach.  Exact information about the number of records exposed or damage in dollars is still limited, but the current suit alleges that Michaels failed to report its last major breach in May of 2011.  In addition, they failed to adequately monitor its payment systems in a way which would allow the retailer to detect fraud or other signs of tampering, allowing the breach to continue unnoticed for an extended period of time.

It is imperative, not only for the good of the consumer, but for the businesses that handle sensitive personal information themselves, to have  best practices and protocols in place to immediately and effectively identify a breach incident and subsequently mitigate any resulting harm.  In the event that a data breach occurs, it is imperative that businesses work against the traditional inclination to be silent on the matter.

The companies that recover from breaches the fastest and with the least amount of public relations damage are those that get out ahead of the issue   They have a Data Breach Incident Response Plan to notify their consumers about what happened, provide information on what they have done to correct the situation, they inform customers about the steps they are taking to minimize the risk of it happening again, and they provide necessary remedies to customers to rebuild their customers’  confidence and trust.  For specific questions relating to data breaches, please visit our website at www.idtheftcenter.org or call us toll free at (888) 400-5530.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.

The compromise of millions of consumers’ information now has Target sending out millions of data breach notification letters and emails to victims and potential victims all over the country.  If you’re among that population, you may have already received some form of communication from Target informing you of the potential exposure of your information and what you might do about it.

But consumer beware. The high profile nature of this breach has scammers and identity thieves swooping in to ravage this already exposed population like vultures after a carcass. The primary method seems to be sending fraudulent emails or notification letters purporting to be representing Target in an effort to trick consumers into giving them their personal information.  So if you’ve received a letter from “Target,” here are a few ways to check to ensure the letter you’ve received is legitimate, and not an attempt to scam you.

  1. The Email Address:  Actual Target breach emails are coming from TargetNews@target.bfi0.com.  If your email is from any other address, be very careful.
  2. The Letter Sounds Urgent:  Target is currently offering free credit monitoring for victims of the exposure, provided they sign up by April 30, 2014.  If the email you receive urges you to respond immediately, there’s a good bet it’s a scam. Scammers don’t want you to take time to think, they want your information.
  3. They Ask For Personal Information: A legitimate organization will never ask for personally identifying information in an email. Period. The End. Any time such a request is made, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s from a would-be scammer.  The actual Target email will send you a token inside an email which will take you to a secure website to enter your information. That website is creditmonitoring.target.com.  At your request, they will send you an activation code which, following an email authentication, will allow you to sign up for the free service.
  4. There Are Spelling and Grammatical Errors:  Target is a huge corporation. They can afford to hire people that can speak and write the English language with proper grammar.  If your letter has glaring spelling or grammatical errors, you can be assured it’s a scam email; likely from another country where English isn’t the first language.
  5. Signup requires a pre-paid money card, online Pay Pal transfer, or Western Union transfer:  Target’s credit monitoring offer is free, so there’s no need to pay anything. Any attempt to collect payment through any method whatever is a fraudster’s attempt to rip you off.

Consumers with additional questions should contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll free at (888) 500-4430 or visit them online at www.idtheftcenter.org.

“To Victims of Target Breach: Don’t Let Crooks Double Dutch You was written by Matt Davis.  Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.

It’s no longer an “if” you’re the target of a data breach; it’s just a matter of “when.” Data loss incidents are becoming an unfortunate rite of passage. More and more businesses have found themselves exposed and ill prepared to manage the fallout.

While the average cost of a breach equals $5.5 million, the public reaction fosters graver implications. The resulting “business shock” not only paralyzes operations, but it also damages relationships with regulators, partners and consumers.

How can you best prepare and defend your organization? How can we all make 2014 the year of “data stewardship?”

At the Online Trust Alliance, we’ve found one of the best things you can do is create a Data Incident Plan (DIP). The DIP is a playbook that describes the breach fundamentals an organization can deploy on a moment’s notice. A good DIP helps you quickly determine the nature of an incident, immediately contain it, ensure evidence is not accidentally ruined, and easily notify regulators. Without a DIP, the breach will harm a company’s brand, increase liability exposure and engender a negative impression on your bottom line. 

So in honor of the upcoming 2014 Data Privacy Day, here are 14 key tips to help you create your DIP:

  1. Know Thy Data. Determine what data you collect and share. Classify it according to its level of criticality and sensitivity. What could be considered PII? Define whether data is “in use,” “in motion,” or “at rest.” Know where the data is physically stored.
  2. Terms & Conditions May Apply. Make sure your privacy policy reflects current data practices (see Tip #1). This includes the use of third party advertisers, analytics and service providers. Periodically review and confirm these third parties comply with your written policies.
  3. You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone. Conduct annual audits to review whether your data should be retained, aggregated or discarded. Data that’s no longer used needs to be securely decommissioned. Create a data retention policy dictating how long you keep information once it’s fulfilled its original purpose. And of course, continually ask whether that purpose is still valid and relevant.
  4. Practice Or You’ll Breach. Forged email, malvertising, phishing, social engineering exploits and data snooping via unencrypted transmissions are on the rise. From simple controls to sophisticated gears, make sure you’ve implemented leading security “best practices.”
  5. AYO Technology! Data Loss Prevention (DLP) technologies identify vulnerabilities of potential exposures. These work in conjunction with existing security and anti-virus tools. From early warnings of irregular data flows to unauthorized employee access, DLP solutions help minimize and remediate threats.
  6. BYOD is like a BYOB House Party. The lack of a coherent Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can put an organization at risk. User devices can easily pass malware and viruses onto company platforms. Develop a formal mobile device management program that includes an inventory of all personal devices used in the workplace, an installation of remote wiping tools and procedures for employee loss notification.
  7. Insist on a List. To mitigate the grave impact on your organization, inventory key systems, access credentials and contacts. This includes bank accounts, registrars, cloud service providers, server hosting providers and payroll providers. Keep this list in a secure yet accessible location.
  8. Forensics – Don’t Do This At Home. The forensics investigation is essential in determining the source and magnitude of a breach. This is best left to the experts as it’s easy to accidentally modify or disrupt the chain of custody.
  9. Where the Logs At? Logs are fundamental components in the forensics analysis, helping investigators understand what data was compromised. Types of logs include transaction, server access, firewall and client operating system. Examine all logs in advance to ensure correct configuration and time-zone-synchronization. Routinely back them up, keep copies and make sure they’re protected.
  10. Incident Response Team to the Rescue! Breaches are interdisciplinary events requiring coordinated strategies and responses. The team should represent every functional group within the organization, with an appointed executive who has defined responsibilities and authority. Establish “first responders” available 24/7 (hackers don’t work a 9 to 5 schedule).
  11. Get Friendly with the “Fuzz.” Reach out to law enforcement and regulators prior to an incident. Know who to contact so you won’t have to introduce yourself in the “heat of the battle.” When you have bad news to report, make sure they hear directly from you (a courtesy call goes a long way). Don’t inflame the situation by becoming defensive; focus on what you’re doing to help affected parties.
  12. Rules, Rules, Rules. Become intimately familiar with the international, domestic and local regulations that specifically relate to your organization. The failure to notify the appropriate governmental body can result in further inquiries and fines.
  13. What did you say? A well-executed communications plan not only minimizes harm and potential legal consequences, it also mitigates harm to a company’s reputation. Address critical audiences and review applicable laws before notifying. Tailor your message by geographic region and demographics. Knowing what to say is just as important as knowing what NOT to say.
  14. Help Me Help You. Customers want organizations to take responsibility and protect them from the potential consequences of a breach. The DIP should include easy-to-access remedies that offset the harm to affected parties.

These are just the “tips” of the iceberg when it comes to developing your DIP. A well-documented response plan is only as good as the training and readiness of your organization.To make sure you don’t DIP too far in the water with your incident response plan, join OTA at our upcoming Data Privacy Day Town Hall Events!  In addition to hearing from experts on the latest security, privacy and data protection practices, our Breach Readiness Planning workshop covers the DIP fundamentals. From forensics to customer communications and working with law enforcement, you’ll learn the critical steps to take when dealing with a data loss incident.

For more info and to register go to: https://otalliance.org/dpd.html. These events are eligible for IAPP CPE and CLE credits.   Good luck in developing your DIP and hope to see you on Data Privacy Day!

“Be Breach Prepared With Tips on Your DIP” was written by Heather M. Federman. Heather is the Director of Public Policy at the Online Trust Alliance.

This is the second part of a three part series regarding the recent Target data breach incident.  In Part I, we actually expressed appreciation for some of the positive outcomes of this data breach.

Primarily the fact that it captured national attention from a broad cross section of consumers.  This is positive because consumer engagement in this area is not widespread and any activity that causes consumers to take a more active role in this conversation is valuable.The ITRC call center received hundreds of calls when the information first became public.  One area of confusion was continually brought to our attention: People simply did not understand what the true effect and real risk was regarding that data that was compromised.  Frankly, it boiled down to: I am a victim of the Target data breach – what does that mean? Many consumers were under the impression that the compromised data included information which could be used to obtain NEW lines of credit and/or open new accounts in the consumer’s name.  This is inaccurate.

According to Target, the information that was breached was “payment information”:  The specific card (debit or credit) that was used for payment at a Target location, during the affected time period.  This included information housed on the magnetic strip of the card, and encrypted pin numbers (for debit cards).  To date, Target has not reported that any other Personal identifying information (PII); including Social Security numbers was compromised.  Social Security numbers, a key component in allowing identity thieves to open new lines of credit in your name, are not contained on the magnetic strip.

It is true thieves could take the compromised data and use it to “socially engineer” other information about you, in the hopes they might discover enough to uncover the PII needed to steal your identity.  This does require some effort.  Generally, you would have to be an attractive (i.e. wealthy, public figure, or high profile) individual to warrant such effort.  This is usually not the case with the average consumer.  So while it is possible for this to occur, the likelihood that it will happen is quite small.

The risk to individuals whose data was compromised in the Target data breach is simply this:  The compromised account could be used by someone other than the owner of the account to purchase goods or services.  The recommendation to check the activity on these accounts is solid advice.  The suggestion to close accounts, request new cards, and change PIN numbers (now that we are aware that encrypted PINS were compromised), is also accurate advice. These actions will stop the compromised data from being used, and therefore render it of little value.

Checking credit reports, as a response to this particular breach, is simply ineffective.  It’s important to make it clear that in this particular case, checking your credit reports will have zero effect on minimizing the risks associated with this exposure. Checking your credit report is always a good idea, and the ITRC encourages consumers to do so on a regular basis.  By all means, check your report and ensure that there is no erroneous or fraudulent activity or information on it.  Regularly reviewing your credit report will minimize the amount of damage a thief can do because you will catch the activity earlier.  There is a direct inverse correlation between the date of discovery of identity theft and the level of difficulty in resolving the issue. Just realize this action will not minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, it only minimizes the amount of damage a thief can perpetrate. In regard to the Target data breach incident, checking your credit report (based upon the information disclosed by Target at this time) will not minimize your risk of having the compromised card numbers used to purchase goods or services.

The high level of confusion among consumers only serves to highlight the importance of ensuring that the general public realizes that the level of risk varies depending on the type of breach that has occurred.   The “risk of harm”, or type of future risk to victims of a data breach, is dependent upon the type of data that was compromised.  Indeed, not all breaches are created equal.  There are many variables to consider because most breaches involve complex and technologically advanced systems.  It should be noted that it is not only the type of data which is breached that helps to define the potential damage, but consumers’ online practices (and offline behaviors to a lesser degree) that increase risk as well.

For example, a breach of usernames and passwords for an online, non-financial account may have little effect on Consumer A because they actively follow best practices to minimize their risk, but it could have a devastating effect on Consumer B because they don’t.  Consumer A regularly checks privacy settings and keeps them on the strictest setting, and uses different passwords for different accounts.  Consumer B, who keeps their social media profiles public, and uses the same password for ALL accounts, including their banking site, could easily be compromised.  The savvy identity thief can easily discover what Consumer B’s email address is, and log-in to other accounts because the consumer uses the same password for everything.  The thief then gains access to financial accounts by using the same log-in and password information.

It is up to the business industry to ensure that they are following best practices and have the most up-to-date and robust systems/mechanisms in place to thwart the thieves.  But consumers need to be aware of the role they CAN play in their individual safety.  Then they need to take those steps and employ those strategies.  While this will still won’t guarantee someone will not become a victim of identity theft, it can help to lessen the chances and the damage if it does occur.

“Why I Want to Say Thank You to Target (Part 2 of a 3 Part Series) was written by Eva Velasquez. Eva is the CEO/President of the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.