A couple years ago I bought a shredder to grind up all those #$@&!! “checks” our credit card companies like to send us. After all, the biggest criminal threat to Americans nowadays is identity theft.
Now all those mailings I grind up are piling up in my office because the shredder jammed. I’m thinking of upgrading to an industrial-strength model, but I wonder if I should even bother since my identity was one of those possibly stolen during a breach of the LexisNexis database earlier this year. The company offered me free Equifax credit protection for one year, which I snapped up, but what happens after that? Why should I have to pay for that company’s mistake for the rest of my life?
At least government investigators just arrested a group of young hackers who may be linked to the case, reports The Washington Post. These are the same hackers who apparently stole Paris Hilton’s cell phone contacts. Oh great: putting THAT name in my blog should get my hits up, both from Google and my wife.
To make matters worse, these hackers may have been using child pornography e-mails “to fool people into downloading software capable of capturing passwords and other information needed to infiltrate LexisNexis’s computers,” writes the Post. OK, now I have child porn and Paris Hilton in the same post, so my hits should really soar.
But the situation is anything put humorous. These #$@&!! hackers are responsible for wasting a couple hours of my time on the phone with Equifax to establish my new “free” protection service. I tried setting it up on the web, but the LexisNexis interface didn’t work. That inspires confidence.
Here’s the Post on how the hackers’ scam worked:
According to an account provided by the member of the hacker group – and confirmed by the law enforcement source familiar with the case – the LexisNexis break-in was set in motion by a blast of junk e-mail. Sometime in February a small group of hackers, many of whom knew each other only through online communications, sent out hundreds of e-mails with a message urging recipients to open an attached file to view pornographic images of children. The attachments had nothing to do with child porn; rather, the files contained a program that allowed the group’s members to record anything a recipient typed on his or her computer keyboard.
According to the hacker, a police officer in Florida was among those who opened the infected e-mail message. Not long after his computer was infected with the keystroke-capturing program, the officer logged on to his police department’s account at Accurint, a LexisNexis service provided by Florida-based subsidiary Seisint Inc., which sells access to consumer data. Other officers’ log-in information may have been similarly stolen, the law enforcement source said.
The young hacker said the group members then created a series of sub-accounts using the police department’s name and billing information. Over several days, the hacker said the group looked up thousands of names in the database, including friends and celebrities. The law enforcement source said members of the group eventually began selling Social Security numbers and other sensitive consumer information to a ring of identity thieves in California. Washingtonpost.com has not been able to reach the young hacker to seek comment about the sale of personal information.
In a one year period, as many as 7 million people have become victims of identity theft, reports the Identity Theft Resource Center. That means 799 identities are stolen every hour, 19,178 every day.
“Victims now spend an average of 600 hours recovering from this crime, often over a period of years,” the Resource Center site explains. The average victim spends $1,400 to resolve identity theft problems.
Most of those problems involve the victims’ credit ratings. They must track down creditors to clean up their records, face higher credit card fees and higher insurance costs. In 1987, a mom I know had her assets seized by the IRS because she was suddenly making too much income. Someone was using her social security number in another state but the IRS didn’t care. Problems like this can last more than 10 years, reports the Resource Center.
Talk about your negative impact on parenting: spending time on the phone or computer dealing with these problems take Americans away from their kids and can increase the credit costs of buying a house or car. And you can’t discount the general anger and anxiety such theft is likely to cause.
So far, I’ve been lucky. I have a lockdown on my own accounts. Maybe the hackers will all be imprisoned before they hit me. Maybe not.
One thing LexisNexis didn’t provide was what they had about me in their database; I plan to call them up and find out. Oh, and if you hear a loud grinding noise coming from the vicinity of my house, I decided a wood chipper would make the best shredder. No paper jams, I can use it to trim the forest we call our back yard, and I’ll have compost to boot.