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Massachusetts consumers face more identity theft

May 21, 2012 Karen Umpierre

Identity theft is becoming more common across the nation as people are being approached by debt collection agents for payments on products they did not purchase. Criminals are finding new ways to obtain the personal information of unassuming individuals to buy expensive items and take out lines of credit. A recent report by the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation found the Bay State has experienced an unusually high number of security breaches involving personal information over the past few years. The study showed between November 2007 and October 2011, there were 1,833 statewide breaches that affected the finances of 3,166,031 citizens. Of the hacks, 1,336 involved electronic information, prompting Barbara Anthony, the undersecretary of consumer affairs and business regulation, to call for better data encryption. Ninety-seven percent of the people affected had their data stolen from a computer. "Over the last four years, about half of Massachusetts residents have had their information exposed to loss or theft. We have found that information on laptops, thumb drives, storage discs and tapes, and other electronic platforms are most vulnerable. An important additional layer of security for these items is encryption, which in many cases has been lacking," Anthony explained. Additionally, the OCABR report noted many in the Bay State had information compromised as a result of healthcare breaches, 214 of which were reported in the same time period. Nearly 1 million residents were affected by these hacks, 800,000 of whom because of one breach at Weymouth's South Shore Hospital in 2010. Becker's Hospital Review reported in 2010 that computers in University Health Services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst were affected by malware. The virus potentially exposed the information of nearly 1,000 students who were treated between January and November 2009. The breach prompted school officials to form plans to protect the data of attendees, including new detection software and specialized computer training, according to BHR. Lenders should consider taking extra measures to ensure identity verification, even if there is no alert placed on a line of credit that calls for these steps to be taken. Should a criminal take out a loan fraudulently, the organization that lent the money may never see its cash again. Often, the person whose information is used is not legally liable to repay the loan, and the criminal is usually long gone at that point.