I got a most unwelcome letter from my credit card company recently -- a bright yellow letter with sentences written in all capital letters, lots of bold type, and an alarming number of exclamation points. My credit card may have been COMPROMISED or STOLEN!!!
What did I do to protect myself from the possible nightmare of identity theft? First, I stomped around and cursed a blue streak that's completely inappropriate for printing on a family website. Second, I canceled the credit card. Third, I repeated the first step with louder stomping and slightly more colorful language. Lastly, I threw the letter on a pile of mail and stewed.
I don't exactly recommend that course of action.
Well, I do recommend that you hurl every possible synonym for "jerk" that you can think of into the wind. It will make you feel better and let you blow off a little steam. You should also close any potentially compromised financial account.
Just don't get so angry that you paralyze yourself. I could have swung into action a little sooner to mitigate any damage to my good name and financial reputation, but I was seriously ticked off. Here's why -- and here, too, is the reason I think pretty much everyone's at risk.
One reason I'm so miffed is that I do basically everything you're supposed to do to keep financial information secure. But apparently, that wasn't enough.
I'm still in possession of all my stuff -- the credit card, my wallet, all of my identification, and most of my faculties. My credit card statement never went missing, and none of my payments disappeared. I shop online only with major and reputable retailers. I shred any mail with identifying information. I don't give out personal information willy-nilly. Heck, I even floss my teeth most days.
Another reason I'm vexed is that I don't know what actually happened. My credit card company hasn't been much help. That bright yellow letter is attention-grabbing but maddeningly vague. My account may have been compromised from an outside party and could be at risk. That's not much to go on.
Because of law-enforcement investigations, my company won't say anything more. My attempts to extract information from an unsuspecting customer-service representative were about as successful as getting a teenager to open up about his or her feelings.
I'm left to conclude that because I'm a person in the modern world with a credit card, I'm at risk and you are, too. Data breaches seem to come by the thousands or millions. One credit breach at retailer TJX (NYSE: TJX ) put 45 million card holders at risk. Citigroup (NYSE: C ) lost tapes with information about 3.9 million customers. A hacker got access to information about 19,000 customers of AT&T (NYSE: T ) . I guess it was just a matter of time before it was my turn.
So I got over it. I put my annoyance aside and got to work scouring my financial statements, checking my mail, and hunting through my credit reports. But I already had a healthy dose of paranoia about life in the modern world, and now, it has grown to slightly unhealthy levels -- at least for a while.
You could probably stand to be a little paranoid, too. Keep reading to find out: