Identity Theft

Are Cell Phones Causing ID Theft Problems?

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All consumers are at risk for identity theft every year, often without knowing it, but now it seems that many details of their personal information are available online as a result of a government-related program.

The government program Lifeline, which helps low-income consumers afford wireless and landline phone service, may have a serious data breach issue on its hands, according to a report from Scripps News. In all, more than 170,000 records for people enrolled in the program through TerraCom and the subsidiary YourTel America may have been exposed as a result of these companies posting large amounts of information online.

The number of potential victims is spread across at least 26 states — with Texas and Indiana being the most at-risk with 17,419 and 10,799 potential victims, respectively — and the exposed information for those people includes their Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and data about their participation in these assistance programs, the report said. Currently, the company knows 343 such records were viewed by unknown and possibly unauthorized people, who would have been able to view them with a simple Web search.

Though the program mandates that companies are not supposed to collect any personal documentation on the people who enroll in it, data on these people collected by workers for the companies dating back several months were posted online through Call Centers India, which was contracted to help determine applicants’ eligibility, the report said. A spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission said the agency was aware of the incident but would not confirm or deny whether it was investigating the companies. However, he did note that if there was even one violation of privacy, they could be on the hook for fines of as much as $1.5 million.

Consumers who might be at risk for this type of identity theft may want to take the time to order copies of their credit reports to determine whether someone has opened any fraudulent accounts with their personal information. Often, all a criminal needs to do obtain such a bogus line of credit is a name, date of birth, and Social Security number, and it can take a long time for victims who do not check their credit reports to discover any such incidents. Another great way of monitoring your credit is to use the free Credit Report Card, which updates your score on a monthly basis.

Image: iStockphoto

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