WASHINGTON — Another day, another data breach.
Most recently, Quest Diagnostics, a major medical-testing company, reported that a breach may have compromised not just financial and medication information, but also the Social Security numbers of nearly 12 million patients.
It's a battlefield out there, but it's important to try to keep hackers from accessing your private data, because it can turn into a payday for identity thieves. I recently invited Jeni Rogers, author of "200+ Ways to Protect Your Privacy," to answer reader concerns about identity theft during a live online chat. Here are her answers to some of the leftover questions she got from readers.
Q: We have a 1-year-old. Should we freeze his credit now?
Jeni Rogers: Unfortunately, young children can be victims of identity theft, and it can often go on for quite a while before it's noticed, since children don't typically have bank accounts and credit-monitoring profiles set up to watch for red flags. I personally experienced this years ago when I was setting up utilities on my first apartment. I learned that someone in a different state had gotten ahold of my Social Security number and used it to open a number of utility accounts. Before I even lived on my own as an adult, I had thousands of dollars in unpaid debt to utility companies.
Freezing your child's credit is a good idea. You can do so by contacting all the major credit-monitoring bureaus and requesting a freeze on their credit. You'll have to do this in writing.
(Note: A law enacted last September gives consumers the right to a free security freeze. It also includes a provision to allow parents and legal guardians of children under 16 to request a security freeze. A child should not yet have a credit report, so the credit bureaus technically will create one and then freeze it. You can find information on how to place a freeze at the three major credit bureaus at IdentityTheft.gov. At the bottom of the page, click the link for "Credit Bureau Contact Info.")
Q: What are the best online budgeting tools in terms of keeping data safe? I have considered using Mint.com in the past but was wary of having all my financial data pulled into one place. However, I've just gotten married and am thinking that an online tool like that might be helpful for my husband and me to have shared access to our financial inflow and spending.
Rogers: It's great you're planning to keep track of your finances and budgeting for your life together.
Mint.com is a product offered by Intuit, which is a leading software company and has some good data protections. As you're looking into tools, you should be able to find a link on their website about the security they have in place. Mint, for example, offers multifactor authentication on your account. So you have to login with a password and then enter a randomly generated code sent to another of your devices to access your account. This ensures that, if someone does get your password, they have another level of protection to go through that's harder to hack.
Here's the link to the Mint.com security page: www.mint.com/how-mint-works/security.
That said, we've seen that even large corporations with sophisticated security can fall victim to hacks, so use caution in how and where you keep your financial data. It may also be worth looking into the budgeting tools that your bank offers. Many have tools for budgets based on your account activity, and some also offer credit monitoring. You may find that you have tools that will work for you without putting your data into another online system.
Q: I realize the intent of the Real ID is supposedly national security, but having to provide documents that have already been provided for passports and/or the TSA pre-check program makes no sense. Having the documents scanned means there is another database that is just waiting to be hacked.
(Note: The Real ID Act is a federal law passed after the 9/11 attacks to tighten security by creating a national standard for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards.)Comment on this story
Rogers: Your privacy instincts are good, and it's true that the chances your information can be compromised increase along with the number of places your sensitive details or documents are stored — especially online.
But according to the Department of Homeland Security, the requirement of a Real ID to fly, starting in 2020, is a change to rules and requirements around obtaining identification. There is no plan to create a federal database of driver's license information.
You can read more about this issue by going to dhs.gov and searching for Real ID Frequently Asked Questions for the public.