ELLSWORTH — Consumers who reveled in Hollywood’s embarrassment last December after hackers wormed their way into the computers at Sony Pictures may have their own embarrassments to contend with.
Last week, Anthem announced that hackers had broken into its computers and stolen the confidential information of as many as 80 million of the giant health insurer’s customers.
According to the company, the computer breach affects all of its various insurance products and brands, such as Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and also affects customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans that are not owned by Anthem.
Unlike previous computer break-ins at companies such as Target, which exposed customers’ names and credit card numbers, the Anthem jail break exposed customers’ names, addresses, email, birth dates, Social Security numbers and employment information. That means Anthem’s customers, and possibly its former customers, could be prime targets for identity theft.
Anthem has promised that it will send individual letters to current and former customers whose data was accessed, and will provide credit monitoring and identity protection services and has set up a dedicated toll-free number for questions: (877) 263-7995.
Anthem also has warned its customers not to provide any information to anyone who telephones them on the pretext of representing the company and not to respond to any email or click on any link in an email purporting to be from Anthem.
On Tuesday, Maine joined with nine other states in a letter to Anthem complaining that the company is not dealing with the data breach quickly enough and promising their own investigation.
On Wednesday, Maine Assistant Attorney General Christina Moylan said, “From an enforcement standpoint, we’d like people to know we are taking this very seriously and are going to put some resources into this.”
While the Attorney General’s Office is investigating, it also recommends that consumers take a less passive approach than simply waiting for Anthem’s letter.
“Now is the time to be proactive,” Martha Currier, a complaint examiner in the AG’s Consumer Protection Division, said Wednesday morning. “We urge people to use all the protections they would for identity theft.”
So, just what steps are available?
First, consumers may establish a “fraud alert” by contacting any one of the three consumer reporting companies:
- Equifax: (800) 525-6285, www.equifax.com, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241.
- Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742), www.experian.com, P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013.
- TransUnion: (800) 680-7289, www.transunion.com, Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.
Contacting one of the three companies above automatically alerts the other two companies.
The initial fraud alert is free, and is good for 90 days, but has to be renewed regularly.
Even stronger protection is available by having each of the three companies place a “security freeze” on a consumer’s credit information. Each company charges a $10 one-time fee, and the freeze lasts until the consumer directs that it be removed.
Information about how to implement the security freeze process is available on each company’s website or by telephone.
Currier had two more pieces of advice for consumers.
First, file your tax returns early. Over the past couple of years there has been a substantial increase in the filing of fraudulent tax returns by scammers seeking a tax refund. Taxpayers who then file a legitimate tax return electronically will have it rejected.
“That can be straightened out,” Currier said, but it requires filing a paper return and may entail considerable delay and inconvenience.
Currier’s second piece of advice: carefully monitor all bank accounts, credit card bills and other financial accounts such as stock brokerage or 401K accounts.
“This kind of data breach makes people realize how vulnerable their data is,” Currier said.
Anthem offers credit monitoring to Maine customers
PORTLAND — Anthem Health Plans of Maine announced this afternoon that it is taking steps to protect Maine customers from the possible risk of identity theft after computer hackers gained access to the records of some 80 million present and former customers nationwide.
After the attack was discovered, Anthem considered ways to offer credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to the millions of people potentially affected by this attack.
Starting on Friday, customers will be able to sign up for these services, which will be offered free of charge for two years. Information on how to enroll will be posted at the website anthemfacts.com.