Our view: No more privacy, watch your info

Privacy is dead.

It's been dead for a while now, actually, only it's just beginning to raise a smell.

Friday, it was announced by Equifax, a credit reporting agency few had likely heard of until recently, that the personal information of just about half of all adult Americans had been compromised by hackers. Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, all gone and possible up for sale to identity thieves all over the globe.

If you're wondering what you should do, or how much trouble you're in for, there's numerous sources online offering advice. We recommend you read our own Fraud Watch column and follow the advice of Elliott Greenblott, the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

You should also get used to this sort of thing happening and become savvy in mitigating or avoiding the consequences.

Credit reporting agencies like Equifax weren't invented recently. Equifax was founded over 100 years ago. What's relatively new is that the information it collects is stored on computers and that data can be accessed anonymously, secretly, and remotely.

You don't use a computer? That doesn't matter. Some aspect of you is stored on a machine somewhere, be it with the Internal Revenue Service, the hospital, credit card company, the bank. If you exist, your personal information is out there, waiting to be compromised.

This sort of theft occurs on a smaller scale as well. Last week, we reported that "skimming devices" were found at gas pumps at Martin's Mini-Mart and at Midway's Tenneybrook Market in Bennington. The devices are fixed to legitimate card scanners and used to steal data from your credit or debit card. They've since been removed.

The Equifax breach shows us there really is no way around having your information stolen. Credit reporting agencies get their information from credit card companies, banks, and other lenders so they can formulate your credit score. If you've borrowed money, they've got your information.

No doubt the companies holding this sensitive data will take further steps to guard it. No doubt those wanting to steal it will find ways to beat the new security measures. There's no miracle cure for this problem. It isn't going away. People are simply going to have to factor the risk of their identity being stolen into their daily lives.

What we'll likely see going forward is a much a greater awareness among the public about the status of their personal financial information. Years from now, if they're not doing so already, schools may even teach older students how to protect themselves and what to do in the event of a problem, in much the same way they're taught to drive safely and what do when there's a crash.

A few years ago, folks would routinely call us saying how someone had tried a phone scam on them and to print their story so everyone would be aware. We ran several such articles, but after a while it became clear that this was the new normal. You lock your car door because people steal. You lock your home doors for the same reason. Now you also pay attention to your bank and credit card statements as well as your credit rating.


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