Anthem Presents Big Problems, Few Solutions

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably at least heard the name “Anthem” being tossed around in news headlines or on social media. If you haven’t, start reading about it here, here and here.

Simply put, the Anthem attack is both frightening and fascinating.

It begs the questions:

  1. Could the attack have been prevented? Many computer science experts and privacy specialists are saying no.
  2. Will it happen again? In his coverage of the situation, investigative journalist and privacy expert Bob Sullivan warns everyone, “The Anthem health data leak isn’t the Big One – that’s still coming, believe me.” He adds, “While Washington D.C. bickers over a new privacy law that enacts technological-era change at a glacial pace, hackers are running circles around our nation’s companies. Nobody I know who works in cybersecurity thinks things are going to get better.”
  3. What can victims do to protect themselves? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Part of this has to do with the fact that there’s no telling when people’s identities will be forfeited – it could happen today, tomorrow or months or even years from now. According to Anthem, victims should take advantage of its free credit monitoring and identity protection services and immediately report suspicious activity if they see it. Spokespersons from companies such as Experian and Hotspot Shield suggest taking this a step further by also signing up for fraud alerts or even a credit freeze (until credit is needed again). None of this, as you can guess, is convenient or fun.
  4. How can this be prevented in the future? That’s the million dollar question, and the answer is anything but easy. To again quote Bob Sullivan – one of my favorite journalists – “fresh thinking is the only way through this problem.” He writes that as millions of Americans face compromised identities, “the right way to deal with [this] is simple: We need to devalue the stolen information. One modest proposal you will hear is to simply make all Social Security numbers public, thereby ending once and for all their use as a unique and ‘secret’ identifier.”

The suggestion to make social security numbers public is indeed bold and fresh. How that would work remains to be seen, but Bob and other experts hit the nail on the head: Without fresh, original thinking here – the kind that completely turns the tables on cyber criminals – America is going to be in for a very long, tough and frustrating battle against hackers, and who knows how damaging that could be.

Stay Alert Out There, Folks

I’m not talking about while jogging in the dark or during inclement weather, although that’s important.

I’m talking about how corporations are acting pretty sneaky these days. If you haven’t heard, Starbucks is selling $200 silver gift cards. Aka, a gift card made out of silver, with just $50 loaded onto it for coffee. (You can read more about that here).

In addition, Comcast is causing controversy by forcing customers to upgrade their modems. When people click on a link promising more information, they’re hit with the following notice, “Great news! You have already placed an order to upgrade your current modem. Your order will be processed in approximately 24-72 hours and, if eligible, your easy to use self-install kit will be automatically shipped in approximately 2 to 4 weeks.” (More about that here and here).

It reminds me of my own experiences earlier this year with Discover (the credit card company). Now I love Discover, but I haven’t always loved them. I think the company does a lot of great things, such as their 5% Cashback Program. (But more on that later).

However sometime in January 2014, after paying off almost all of my credit card debt, I noticed that Discover was charging me bogus fees under the names of “Wallet Protection” and “Payment Protection.” Um, what? I definitely didn’t remember ever signing up for anything under these names. I also, unfortunately, had never checked my credit card statements, so I never realized that they’d been charging me these fees monthly. (Rookie mistake – always check your credit card statements).

The fees always varied – from as little as $3.99 to $7.99 a month. Still, small fees add up. When I called Discover and politely asked them to “un-enroll” me from the programs, they promptly offered to reimburse me for all of the times I was charged for these programs. Which was great news for me! (I have a feeling I wasn’t the first person to bring this up). Sure enough, about a month later, Discover reimbursed me more than $500 in bogus credit card fees. It kind of felt like Christmas again in February.

But the point is that these fees should never have been charged in the first place, and that it’s important to keep an eye on your transactions – all of them – so that you can catch these types of…. “discrepancies”… when they occur. As for the Starbucks gift card… I’m pretty sure all of us could find a better way to spend $200.

Now go check your credit card statements!! …and let me know if you catch anything.