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I've Got a Secret! No, I Don't

Identity-Theft.png

David Surdam, Professor of Economics

By: David Surdam
Professor of Economics
David W. Wilson Business Ethics Fellow

The Equifax debacle emphasized a new truism: Your identity and all of your secrets are not safe. You are living in a world where you must take the initiative to protect your identity against thieves.

An annoying aspect of Equifax is that none of us gave direct permission for them to store sensitive information regarding our finances. With regard to credit cards and mortgages, we usually voluntarily select with whom we are willing to share such information. We do so, when we deem it advantageous (the convenience of using credit cards to pay for items or the desirability of obtaining a mortgage).

Equifax apparently neglected to apply some rather simple and inexpensive fixes to their system to protect the security of hundreds of millions of files. Their executives should have understood that their prime responsibility was to maintain security of the information, especially because we did not give them permission to collect this information. This is not to say that most of us benefit from the services Equifax and its rivals provide.

But let us not kid ourselves; the hackers and thieves are relentless—and why shouldn’t they be with the potential gains to be had. Foreign governments apparently sponsor hackers to infiltrate data bases. Equifax was an obvious target. In such a world, each of us must exert ourselves to monitor and build protections for our privacy and information. We cannot rely upon the vendors, even though they have responsibility to protect our information.

You must assume that the vendors will sell or share your information without your permission in many cases, often in an attempt to get you to buy more. These third-party purchasers of information may or may not have adequate security. The internet is filled with snoopers. If I mention a book in a post on Facebook, Amazon.com inevitably sends me a message or a popup offering said book for sale. I find this annoying and creepy. I suppose I could find a way to opt out of their “suggestions,” but doing so might be time consuming.

Younger readers of these blog pieces must accept that their lives are now a matter of the public record in ways that few individuals of the past ever experienced. I am often grateful that when I was growing up, digital cameras and phones did not exist. My Mom was an excellent photographer and took plenty of photos but usually only for special occasions. The photographic record was nowhere as extensive as volume of public information on people growing up in the last two or three decades. This is, indeed, a new millennium.

Everything you buy on credit or debit cards; every photo you post; and every message you post may have a shelf life of forever. Fortunately, many students have learned, perhaps through their older siblings’ experiences, not to post photos of copious alcohol consumption and other youthful activities. A decade ago, such photos were common and may have injured students in their job searches.

To be sure, people have long been aware of the need to check their credit reports (and social security) accounts annually. They should match their credit and debit card statements against their receipts. People need to be careful in creating passwords and in changing them on occasion. Although the responsibility for theft still rests upon the thieves, you are wise to exercise some discretion and some pro-active precautions.

Eternal vigilance is your best protection.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.

 

Posted on 08-Dec-17


  






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I've Got a Secret! No, I Don't

Identity-Theft.png

David Surdam, Professor of Economics

By: David Surdam
Professor of Economics
David W. Wilson Business Ethics Fellow

The Equifax debacle emphasized a new truism: Your identity and all of your secrets are not safe. You are living in a world where you must take the initiative to protect your identity against thieves.

An annoying aspect of Equifax is that none of us gave direct permission for them to store sensitive information regarding our finances. With regard to credit cards and mortgages, we usually voluntarily select with whom we are willing to share such information. We do so, when we deem it advantageous (the convenience of using credit cards to pay for items or the desirability of obtaining a mortgage).

Equifax apparently neglected to apply some rather simple and inexpensive fixes to their system to protect the security of hundreds of millions of files. Their executives should have understood that their prime responsibility was to maintain security of the information, especially because we did not give them permission to collect this information. This is not to say that most of us benefit from the services Equifax and its rivals provide.

But let us not kid ourselves; the hackers and thieves are relentless—and why shouldn’t they be with the potential gains to be had. Foreign governments apparently sponsor hackers to infiltrate data bases. Equifax was an obvious target. In such a world, each of us must exert ourselves to monitor and build protections for our privacy and information. We cannot rely upon the vendors, even though they have responsibility to protect our information.

You must assume that the vendors will sell or share your information without your permission in many cases, often in an attempt to get you to buy more. These third-party purchasers of information may or may not have adequate security. The internet is filled with snoopers. If I mention a book in a post on Facebook, Amazon.com inevitably sends me a message or a popup offering said book for sale. I find this annoying and creepy. I suppose I could find a way to opt out of their “suggestions,” but doing so might be time consuming.

Younger readers of these blog pieces must accept that their lives are now a matter of the public record in ways that few individuals of the past ever experienced. I am often grateful that when I was growing up, digital cameras and phones did not exist. My Mom was an excellent photographer and took plenty of photos but usually only for special occasions. The photographic record was nowhere as extensive as volume of public information on people growing up in the last two or three decades. This is, indeed, a new millennium.

Everything you buy on credit or debit cards; every photo you post; and every message you post may have a shelf life of forever. Fortunately, many students have learned, perhaps through their older siblings’ experiences, not to post photos of copious alcohol consumption and other youthful activities. A decade ago, such photos were common and may have injured students in their job searches.

To be sure, people have long been aware of the need to check their credit reports (and social security) accounts annually. They should match their credit and debit card statements against their receipts. People need to be careful in creating passwords and in changing them on occasion. Although the responsibility for theft still rests upon the thieves, you are wise to exercise some discretion and some pro-active precautions.

Eternal vigilance is your best protection.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.

 

Posted on 08-Dec-17







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