So far there have been no foot-in-mouth moments from Vice President Joe Biden, but sharp-eyed viewers of the Democratic National Convention may have caught a pretty good gaffe during last night’s festivities.
While we’ll let our colleagues over at TIME Swampland wade into the political debate around Medicare, here’s one idea both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on: It’s really, really stupid to wave around your Medicare card if you’re in the audience of an event being filmed and televised live by every major network in the United States.
During former president Bill Clinton‘s speech on Wednesday night, a woman named Edith Byrd held up her Medicare card, which the camera passed over two separate times. Byrd’s full name, Social Security number, enrollment date (which would make it relatively easy to figure out her birthday) and signature are on full, unobstructed view.
For an identity thief, that’s like hitting the jackpot. Someone could go open up credit cards, obtain government-issued ID, take out loans, and generally create a huge headache for Byrd.
This is similar to the trend of people posting pictures of their credit and debit cards on social media sites. A Twitter account NeedADebitCard calls out these not-so-bright cardholders; it also re-posts the pictures of their cards, potentially exposing them to a wider audience. (Incredibly, people are still practicing this dumb move; the feed has images from as recently as this week.)
Byrd’s bad judgement does have a precedent. In her case, though, the potential consequences are even greater because her Social Security number has been exposed. So, what does she do now?
First, she needs to put a security alert on her credit report, Adam Levin, Co-Founder and Chairman of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911, says in a blog post on the Credit.com site. Byrd only has to call either TransUnion, Equifax or Experian, Levin says; it will let the other two bureaus know. He recommends she check her credit report frequently, even daily for the 90-day duration when the alert is on her credit file, and that she should carefully monitor her bank accounts and credit cards, as well.
Another option would be for Byrd to put a credit freeze on her file. This would become a hassle if she needed to get credit or a loan immediately, since she first would have to reverse the freeze. But these relatively minor annoyances are peanuts compared to actually becoming a victim of identity theft.
The incident is probably going to cost Byrd at least a few bucks. She might have to pay to initiate and discontinue credit freezes at up to $10 a pop, depending on where she lives. (Since she voluntarily flashed her Medicare card, she might not have any luck claiming the fee waiver many states offer identity theft victims.)
And while we don’t generally recommend credit monitoring services for most people, Byrd is a pretty good example of the exception to the rule. Given the amount of information floating around about her, daily monitoring of her credit activity is probably a bright idea. Maybe she’ll get lucky and a publicity-seeking credit-monitoring company will offer her their services for free.