The latest high-profile hacking incident shifted from the usual retail targets (pun intended) to the equally lucrative world of medical insurance.
The major health insurer Anthem suffered an enormous data breach that was made public in early February. Nearly 80 million current and former Anthem customers had their information compromised, including names, residential addresses, e-mail addresses, Social Security numbers, and employment information.
You may be affected without realizing it, because Anthem does business under different names in different areas, many of which do not include the word “Anthem” at all. Check with your insurance provider to see if they are part of the Anthem network – but even if they are, this does not necessarily mean you were affected.
If your information was compromised, you will be notified about the breach by letter – but why wait to take action?
Your best move is to visit www.anthemfacts.com or call 877-263-7995; a toll-free number recently set up for questions about the data breach. Anthem has offered free credit monitoring and ID theft prevention services to current and former members of affected Anthem plans dating back to 2004. If you are a victim of the breach, it is wise to take Anthem up on their offer – or at the very least enlist some other vendor for those resources.
Aside from credit monitoring and ID theft protection solutions, there are several other actions you can immediately take to avoid fraud and identity theft.
- Monitor Existing Accounts – Check all bank statements, debit card transactions and credit card purchases in detail. Online access to your account allows you to check daily for any unusual activity. Fraudsters will often make small purchases to test whether you are paying attention to your account, but be sure to distinguish this from the small holds (typically $1) that retailers like gas stations place on your account while they process your transaction.
- Fraud Alerts – By signing up for a 90-day fraud alert with the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), you can make it more difficult for criminals to use your information. Fraud alerts usually require that potential creditors contact you directly before any new credit can be approved.
You can also apply the more powerful credit freeze, but in that case, you will have to notify the bureaus before getting any type of credit. A credit freeze can be quite inconvenient for you, so it is usually applied only in cases where you are trying to limit existing fraud.
- Be Aware of Scams – Once your information is on the secondary market, you may be increasingly targeted by mail, telephone and email scams. Use typical common sense approaches – never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call to a known trusted number, and never give out passwords, Social Security numbers, and other personal information via email requests claiming to be from your bank, card company, retailers, or the IRS.
- Check Medical Statements – At this point, there is no indication that medical records were compromised, but criminals may still have enough information to file fraudulent medical claims in your name. Long processing times can result in bills that are in collections under your name before you realize they exist.
It is critically important to open and review all mail from insurance companies and health providers during this time, even if you have not had dealings with the group before. Check for any bogus bills or Explanations of Benefits (EOBs), which are explanations of the services you are being billed for and the amount for which you are allegedly responsible. Seek assistance if you need help deciphering EOBs.
If you just throw the mail away assuming that it is all junk mail, fraudsters may rack up even more bills and leave you with a very difficult mess to clean up between insurers, medical providers, and bill collectors.
Aside from the above steps, you should take common sense precautions to guard against personal hacks by utilizing difficult passwords that are changed regularly, updated virus software, and limiting use of unsecured wireless systems.
With luck, your information will not be used by criminals – but you certainly do not want to rely on luck. Take action now to avoid potential headaches later. Even if you were not an Anthem victim, with the increasing number of breaches, your information is likely to be affected at some point. Get used to good identity theft prevention practices now, while the stakes are still relatively low.
If you would like to prevent identity theft, check out our credit monitoring service.