One of the problems with finding hackers in big systems, like the OEM and IRS hacks, is that discovering the full extent of the information taken can sometimes take weeks or months. That’s exactly what happened at the IRS. The agency announced this week that nearly 330,000 taxpayer records were taken, 200,000 more than were originally reported.
The reason it takes so long to get accurate numbers is because once hackers get administrative access to a computer network, they can delete log files that make tracking all the changes they made extremely difficult. There are things you can do to make your identity harder to steal and your information to be of less value to hackers. Unfortunately, none of these would work for IRS or OPM records, but they will work just about anywhere else.
Freeze Your Credit Reports
Unless you’re actively applying for credit, freeze your credit reports. A credit report freeze keeps anyone from opening credit in your name. You can still apply for credit but you have to lift the freeze to do so. Credit report freezes are actually a very powerful tool and yet few people take advantage of the service.
Your Doctor Doesn’t Need Your SSN
Some of the most insecure computer networks I’ve ever seen were run by doctor’s offices and clinics. Unless it’s the state or a company that’s paying you, they don’t need your social security number. It’s constantly amazing the number of companies that think they need your social, including utility companies, insurance agencies and testing services.
Better Shred Than Read
A crosscut paper shredder can provide a lot of security at minimal cost. Anything you leave in the trash is pretty much fair game, so shred everything.
Get a Burner Number
These days there are few good reasons to hand out your real phone number. You can get an alternate number from GoogleVoice that rings directly to your cell phone or you can set up call routing, that rings your cell and home phones. The best part is it’s free. Another service called Burner lets you set up several phone numbers and one-time use numbers for a small fee. These days, you don’t ever have to hand out your real cell number to anyone but family.
Use a Mail Forwarder
If you really want to go totally 007 you can even have your mail sent to a mail forwarding service typically employed by people living on boats and in RVs. For $10-$15 a month, depending on which services you need, you can have a physical street address to hand out that lets you keep your real address a secret. They’ll even shred junk mail for you or open your mail and fax it to you. Between a mail forwarding service and burner phone number, you can completely confuse the companies trying to sell you things about where you live.
In a world where hacking gangs are getting better and better at getting your private information, it’s nice to know there are some tools out there that can make your information less valuable.