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The Computer Corner

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By Charles Miller

 

Best Identity Theft Defense: Keep Info Need-to-Know

 

One day, while in the States, I was visiting an office and the receptionist was filling in some obligatory paperwork. “Name?” she asked. “Address? Phone Number?” Then she asked, “What’s your Social Security number?”

“It’s private,” I responded. Much to my surprise and astonishment, she responded with a smile and said, “Okay.”

Regretfully, I was not quick enough on my feet to ask if she knew the story of Todd Davis. My justification for keeping my personal information private whenever I can is my knowledge of what can happen to people who fail to do so. The following story tells why it is a bad idea to provide thieves with the tools to do what they do.

In 2007, Todd Davis was the CEO of LifeLock, a company that would guarantee customers’ protection against identity theft. In what must be one of the most ill-conceived advertising campaigns of all time, he posted ads for his company that read: “My name is Todd Davis. This is my social security number 457-55-5462. LifeLock will make your personal information useless to a criminal. And it’s guaranteed.” In other words, the pitch was that even if you broadcast your SSN to the world, LifeLock would still protect you.

The first indication that this had been a terrible mistake was when his wife’s cell phone rang. It was a collection agency demanding to know when a past-due credit card bill would be paid—a credit card neither Davis nor his wife knew they had. His identity had been stolen, and the identity thieves were busily running up thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges in his name.

That was only the first time. Over the next few years, Todd’s identity was stolen again and again and again and again in spite of all the protection that LifeLock was supposed to provide. It continued to happen even with improvements made to its system. His identity was stolen thirteen times. There were also an unknown number of unreported occurrences, because obviously Mr Davis and LifeLock would prefer this story did not get any more mention in the press.

So what about his company, LifeLock, and the protection it was supposed to give against identity theft? I should not give readers the impression that using LifeLock is a bad idea. Far from it. The company is still in business, providing identify theft protection with plans for as low as $9.95 per month. For anyone with money to burn and who does not want to be bothered to keep tabs on their own credit reports, LifeLock provides a beneficial service and is worth considering.

The takeaway here is to understand that not even reputable companies such as LifeLock can protect you from your own behavior, should you do something so incredibly foolish as did Todd Davis. It is just safer to keep your personal information on a need-to-know basis. When someone asks for my address, email, or phone number, I will give it to them if I think they need to know.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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