Monday, October 20, 2008

Consumer Self-Protection

Yesterday I posted about weaknesses in systems deployed by the IRS. In that post, I used the weaknesses as an example of the limits of government regulation, given that they showed that even the government itself couldn't keep its house in order. However, something I didn't explicitly address in that post is that the weaknesses in the IRS' systems also demonstrate that there are serious limits on what consumers can do to prevent their information from being compromised. After all, you can't avoid paying taxes, and, by definition, the information held by the IRS is highly sensitive financial data. The result is, simply by virtue of being an American and following the law, your information is at risk.*

So what can ordinary consumers do to protect themselves? In the case of information security, for individuals, I'd say that an ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention. That is, rather than worrying about protecting your data (which should be the responsibility of the merchants/government entities your data is entrusted to) individual consumers should worry about how they'll find out and deal with it if their data is compromised. Easy steps like credit monitoring, promptly disputing unauthorized charges, and maintaining backup accounts/lines of credit in case one gets frozen as a result of fraud can make recovering from the extremely hard to prevent data compromises a substantially less miserable experience.

*As a note, I don't mean to single the IRS out as an exceptionally bad actor. Indeed, if you compare the IRS' security practices with security practices at TJX before their big breach, I think the IRS comes out way ahead.

3 comments:

John Taylor said...

William,

Boy did I make spelling errors yesterday! Thats what happens when the paint has worn from your keyboard and you (I) refuse to spend the money to buy a new one.

I completely agree with your position in the article. My primary professional function is to bring security to businesses in the form of a framework of the written identity theft prevention and response plan for the company, staff training on identity theft in all its forms and how that relates to their private lives as well as on the job. We also help with 3rd party service provider oversight. In the trainings I also offer the Identity Theft Shield by Pre-Paid Legal Services administered by Kroll Fraud Solutions. This serves to give the employee and family a solid response to the crime and true restoration, and also serves to mitigate the employers liability if a breach occurs in the company. Opting for the service is typically voluntary on the part of the employee and we provide documentation for the HR Director of their decision(s).

The only way the public can lower risk from identity theft is with two tools. First, a thorough knowledge of the crimes of ID theft, and second a significant response plan that will protect the integrity of the victims PII and database entries, not just credit reports. We feel that between the Identity Theft Shield and access to attorneys for about a dollar a day the client has the best overall plan for identity theft issues, and for all of their individual and family legal issues from estate planning, to consumer law, law suit defense, and even IRS audit help from a tax attorney.

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Thanks,
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