I know exactly what day it was because I got up very early to be among the first to know Punxsutawney Phil's prediction for how many weeks of winter were still ahead. As I was waiting for the live coverage to begin, I got an email that made my heart race. It was from LifeLock, the identity protection service I've used for many years. The subject line was chilling: "Dark Web Alert: Identity Information Detected."
I'd never heard of the dark web, the overarching term being "deep web," but it didn't sound good. Immediately, I logged into my LifeLock account, and sure enough, that was not a spam email. The alert was loud and clear. Not only had LifeLock detected my email address on the dark web; it had detected my password, too. It was my correct and current. What on Earth?!
The directive from LifeLock was to change my password immediately. Just like closing the barn door after the horse gets out, I changed it. My new password seems longer than the two hours people were waiting in 15 degree F weather to witness Punxsutawney Phil come out of his burrow and see the sun shining. It has 24 uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols — a seriously strong password. But that does nothing to turn back time.
A quick search for "dark web" taught me that there are two webs. There's the normal web most people use every day, which is easily accessible and indexed by search engines. And then there's the dark web, hidden websites that won't show up when you search Google and can't be accessed without special software.
The dark web is where illegal activities take place — the online buying and selling of illicit goods drugs, narcotics, weapons; the unauthorized leak of sensitive information including my personal data; credit card and identity theft. With this information — like my email address and password, which threw the door to the entirety of my online life wide open for an unknown period of time — criminals can open accounts, get a driver's license, file tax returns, grab your tax refund, take out federal student loan, and even buy and mortgage property.
I learned from LifeLock that I am 11 times more likely to be a victim of identity fraud now that I've suffered this breach. Scary? You bet it is. But I am not concerned.
Here's the deal: We as a society have now come to the place where it is virtually impossible to protect our personal identifying information and keep it private. We have to assume that it's out there. What we can do is make sure no thieves, thugs or other entities are able to use that information against us and to their advantage. That's why my husband, my immediate family and I have chosen the LifeLock protection service.
I'm confident that if anyone tries to use my identifying information to open an account, take out a loan, apply for a driver's license, register a car, or check into a hospital or medical center using my name and insurance number, I'm going to get an alert! I'll know as fast as I knew I'd been exposed on the dark web. And BAM! LifeLock will stop it with my directive.
Realistically, I know that no one can prevent all identity theft or monitor all transactions. But I rest assured that my LifeLock ID protection includes so many layers of protection and if something gets through, the company will immediately move into action to fix it. I'm set for personal expense compensation, reimbursement of any stolen funds, and coverage for lawyers and experts to restore my good name and reverse any and all damage done.
The cost for LifeLock ID Protection ranges from $10 to $30 a month, depending on the level of protection. If you're interested in learning more, you can go to EverydayCheapskate.com/LifeLock to get a 30-free trial and a 10 percent sign-up discount ($8.99 a month instead of the regular price of $9.99).
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.