About 15 residents and community members gathered Thursday afternoon at Edgewood Assisted Living to learn how to keep their personal information protected from data breaches, phone scams and more.
Jody Gillaspie, director of the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, shared tips on how to identify scams and avoid giving scammers information, as well as how to safeguard data as much as possible.
Gillaspie focused not only on scams that specifically target seniors, but on ways in which data from people of all ages is vulnerable. She addressed the group at Edgewood weeks after a settlement was reached in connection with a 2017 Equifax data breach that exposed personal information from 147 million people.
"Equifax is one of your credit bureaus, and they weren't protecting your information. That's why this (breach) is so egregious and so bad for consumers, is because you didn't have a way to say, 'No, I don't want my information on your system,'" Gillaspie said.
For breaches of any size, South Dakota companies are now required to notify customers within 60 days of noticing the breach, thanks to a law that went into effect last summer. That same law requires that if a breach affects more than 250 South Dakotans, it must be reported to the Division of Consumer Protection, which Gillaspie said previously learned about the breaches no sooner than the general public.
Gillaspie told those at the Edgewood event to scrutinize who they're giving their data to and if it's safe.
"Consumers have to start paying more attention to what type of information you're giving people and asking those questions," she said. "If I give that information to you, how do you protect it?"
One way to keep a scammer from opening a new line of credit even if they've obtained a person's identifying data, Gillaspie said, is to utilize credit freezes. A credit freeze requires that a PIN be given to a credit union to unfreeze a person's credit for 24 hours or another predetermined period of time. Without that PIN, new lines of credit can't be opened, though preexisting accounts are unaffected.
Gillaspie also said that scam artists also target places such as schools and doctors' offices to gather information. Schools keep data such as names and birth dates, which aren't enough to open new lines of credit on their own but can put scammers significantly closer to doing so. Scammers who target doctors' offices, meanwhile, could use a person's medical history to market the most convincing scam possible to that person, or to sell their information to other companies.
"It's something that people need to start keeping in perspective," Gillaspie said." When you're giving that type of information, could that be taken? And what could a scam artist do?"
Gillaspie encouraged attendees to check their credit reports regularly so that if their information is taken and suspicious activity is recorded, they can solve the problem sooner rather than later.
"If something is on there that is not yours, you need to dispute it right away," Gillaspie said. "... Unfortunately, if you are a victim of identity theft, the burden of proof is on you, the consumer, to show that you didn't open up those lines of credit."
Gillaspie said anything that might be a scam should be reported to the Division of Consumer Protection, in part because a large number of reports on similar calls or events might be indicative of a widespread scam.
"If you have questions, if something just doesn't seem quite right to you, call our office," Gillaspie said. "We would rather talk to you prior to you getting into a situation than after."