Identity Theft

Mailing Goof Exposes Customer’s Social Security Number

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Sending sensitive information via the mail makes some people fearful that it could end up in the wrong hands, even though it’s a crime to open someone else’s mail. But if anything is visible through the envelope, just imagine how many people could steal that info between where the mail originates and its final destination.

That unfortunate scenario is unfolding for at least one H&R Block customer, according to a news outlet in Boise, Idaho, where a man noticed his Social Security number was visible from the outside of an envelope from the company.

It’s uncertain how many people may have seen this piece of mail from its departure in Kansas City, Mo., and Boise, but the customer was concerned about identity theft. He contacted H&R Block about the letter exposing his Social Security number, and the company offered him a year of complimentary credit monitoring.

“To me, 365 days is nothing,” the man, Leon Hazel, told KBOI TV. “A Social Security number’s something you have for the rest of your life.”

Credit monitoring can be helpful after your personal information has been compromised, but the risk doesn’t expire. Once the free year is up, he can pay to continue the service, but no matter how he goes about it, credit monitoring will need to remain a priority. Whether you’re a victim of a data breach or not, keeping close tabs on your finances and credit profile is paramount for consumers these days.

Given how much personal information is stored digitally, everyone should know how to spot potential fraud and what to do if it happens. Pulling your free credit reports each year will alert you to unauthorized accounts opened under your name (or the common name or address error), and checking your online bank accounts daily may help you spot a fraudster before he or she drains your available funds.

Regularly reviewing your credit scores can be useful, too. If you’re looking at the same credit scoring model month after month (as you can with Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card), you’ll be able to see sudden changes in your score and what behaviors could have caused a large shift. Big, unexpected swings in your scores should be investigated.

In a statement to KBOI, H&R Block said, “We have received a limited number of reports that sensitive information may have been visible through the envelope window of a recent mailing. …. While we believe the risk to anyone’s personal information is low, out of an abundance of caution H&R Block has contacted potentially impacted clients directly. We are reviewing how this could have occurred and will take any steps needed to prevent this type of an incident from occurring in the future.”

The company did not specify how many people may have been affected, but it serves as a reminder to consumers that mistakes can happen and cause financial headaches, so it’s best to be prepared for such possibilities.

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Image: iStock

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