No safeguards in easy reach for Utah data breach victims

As the mother of a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, Christine Evans has learned to roll with the unexpected.

But everyone has their limits. And a week ago Evans reached hers after receiving notice that her daughter’s Social Security number had been compromised in a massive Medicaid data breach.

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Safeguard your credit

Will Vandertoolen, consumer services director at AAA Fair Credit, a federally-certified, non-profit credit and housing counseling agency, says everyone – breach victim or not – should review their credit files at least once a year, at all three credit rating agencies.

“The worst time to find out you’ve been a victim of identity theft is when you’re applying for a much needed program or loan,” he said.

But no safeguard is foolproof.

Vandertoolen also recommends freezing your kids’ credit, which costs about $10 per agency. It costs about the same to unfreeze it.

Parents of children exposed in Utah’s Medicaid data breach may also consider petitioning the Social Security Administration for a replacement number. But this option is viewed as a last resort for people whose information has been abused.

“You have to prove you have taken other measures to remedy problems,” said Vandertoolen. “And some school and government records will need to be changed.”

For adults with extensive employment and credit histories, starting over is more complicated.

“You have to work with the credit agencies to update your files and make sure your employer and health providers know. If you’re in the military it can throw up red flags and it complicates criminal background checks,” Vandertoolen said. “I didn’t know of anyone who has gone through with it.”

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“It’s one more thing, as if I didn’t have enough to do,” said the working Tooele mother of three. “A lot of times we’re just keeping our head above water. To have this one more thing over our head, it’s drowning.”

Evans’ daughter, Camryn, is among 780,000 Utahns – many of them children on Medicaid – whose personal information was stolen by hackers on April 1 from a poorly protected Utah Department of Technology Services computer server.

State officials have taken steps to protect victims of the breach and guard against a problem like this happening again.

“We have worked around the clock to identify and notify people who had personal information compromised. Our top priority has been notifying individuals whose Social Security numbers were stolen,” said Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko.

To date, letters have been mailed to 273,000 people.

But how many have taken advantage of the state’s offer of a year’s worth free credit monitoring isn’t known. Without information from Experian, Hudachko could not immediately say on Monday.

Meanwhile, affected families are frightened, confused and far from certain that the state’s fixes will shield their credit and identities.

“I’m grateful for the credit monitoring,” said Evans, who out of precaution signed up all her children, even though Camryn is the only one on Medicaid. “But it’s just for a year. I don’t mean to be cynical, but what’s to prevent the hackers from waiting, holding onto Camryn’s information for a year and then using or selling it?”

Authorities, including the FBI, are still investigating, but traced the cyber crime to a computer in Eastern Europe.

The thieves probably weren’t interested in peoples’ health diagnoses, they say. It’s names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers that have value to thieves, who can use the information to take out fraudulent loans.

Camryn has no need of bank accounts or loans, no cause to establish good credit.

Developmentally, the pre-teen is still a toddler. She can’t eat, bathe or get around on her own.

“But anybody could take her Social Security number and use it to gain employment and report that to the government, which might affect her eligibility for disabled services,” Evans said. “That’s vital stuff for us because that’s how she qualifies for Medicaid and gets respite care. And if something goes awry and it comes time to apply for Social Security disability when she turns 18, the feds can hold your application for up to five years. When you start thinking about it, it’s really overwhelming.”

As an added layer of security Evans looked into freezing her childrens’ credit.

“You can freeze the credit of a minor, but unless you have an open police report, you have to pay for it,” she said. “And if you go online you have a whole list of steps…I’ll have to carve out some time to do that, which hasn’t happened yet.”

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