Are the benefits worth the risk?
This post is my response to Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday challenge for the letter “R”.
Who doesn’t love the access and convenience of the internet? Enter a few characters into a search engine and almost immediately you are likely to have thousands upon thousands of results. All that’s left is weeding through the many responses to find those that are most relevant to your particular interest.
I had occasion a few days ago to order copies of my parents’ death certificates. Their state, like many others I imagine, has outsourced the request and payment process for vital records to a commercial enterprise. Requesting the documents via the firm’s secure site was simple: I entered my name, mailing address, payment information, the names and dates of death for my parents, and my relationship to them. After supplying all that, I was asked to enter either my entire social security number (SSN) or just the last four digits so that information could be used to verify my identity. Being of a cautious nature, I opted to enter only the last four digits of my SSN.
The next several screens presented a series of multiple choice questions, with the queries obviously based on the general information I provided early in the request process. Among other things, I was asked to indicate the month and year that we purchased our home, what county I live in currently, the state where my social security card was issued, and which of four cities or towns I had NOT lived in. The questions weren’t difficult, but I did have to think for a moment about when and where I got my social security card (I’m old enough that SSNs were issued when a person entered the workforce, not when they were born).
Though I did wonder what would have happened to my request if I had answered one of the questions incorrectly, I was actually more concerned, dumbfounded really, at how much information about a person can be cobbled together based on just a few cursory facts. Think about it for a moment: the databases this company accessed associated me with my parents via my truncated SSN, linked me with three of several towns and cities I’ve lived in during my lifetime, and had information about my most recent real estate transaction.
So, while I’m ready to acknowledge the many benefits of internet access, I’m also pondering the risk that accrues to each of us in the digital age we’re living in. Given my new awareness of just how much information is available and how easily accessible it is, I’m more grateful than ever that DH signed us up for an identity protection service a couple of years ago. I’m skeptical they can prevent misuse of our personal information, but we will hopefully know about it early enough to significantly limit the damage identity or credit theft might cause us. How do you deal with the risks of living in this digital age?