9.27.2005

Account Breach - leaves you more vulnerable then airing dirty
laundry to your current special friend

When it comes to storing financial information online, never doubt your gut feeling if you start to sense that something is not right. Yesterday, I received an email from Verizon Wireless informing me that my account that had been configured for recurring payments, was no longer active. The message certainly surprised me, especially because this account had been set up over a year ago and the payments were made like clockwork. I started to think with my work instinct rather than listen to my common sense instincts. At work, we had been putting rules in place so that users of a specific software application were notified, after a certain point in time, and encouraged to change profile information (user name, password, etc.). I started to think that the email I received was a pre-set notification and I had missed the fine print when I signed up for the service.

Later in the evening, I received the real kick-in-the-stomach when I checked my text messages to find that my PIN, for the Verizon Wireless site, had been changed. I knew for a fact that a PIN could only be changed when someone logged into an account and manually triggered the account change. Panic started to set in. I couldn't remember if Verizon masked my financial account information. Further, yesterday would have been the worst possible day for a breach to my checking account. The check I submitted with my house contract was about to be deposited and if the funds had magically disappeared, well, let's just say that my usual cure for all things stressful, scotch on the rocks, was only going to the beginning of a very long night.

I suddenly found myself under the influence of Woodward and Bernstein's passion, so eloquently played out by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All The President's Men while speaking with a Verizon account representative. I was going to expose this unacceptable account breach and save thousands of innocent other identify theft victims, which, are certainly out there, waiting for better online account management security. According to a telephone poll conducted Aug. 15-21, 2005 by Gallup:
  • one in six Americans say they have had financial information, such as their bank or credit card numbers, stolen.*
  • Six in 10 (62%) of those who had their information stolen say someone charged purchases against a credit card they already had. Fifty-four percent said someone charged purchases or withdrew money from their bank account.*

As far as I know, the most visible law governing account breach protocol is California Civil Code Section 1798.82. (Please note, this is a PDF file). We need a national law that addresses identity theft outside the state of California. There are companies that incur the expense and take it upon themselves to inform consumers when identity theft occurs, even if the consumer resides outside the state of California. These companies are setting the standard high, for business to customer communication. What we need now is a higher, more secure standard of protection.

I used to think that people who didn't engage in online commerce were crazy not to trust the security protocols. I can know walk in their shoes and relate to their founded trepidation. I will continue to pay bills and make purchases online, but I will be cautious, spend time with the fine print and monitor my accounts more closely.

*Results for the survey are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 15-21, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.


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