In September 2017, Equifax announced a security breach that put approximately 145.5 million Americans’ identities and finances at risk. In March 2018, the company announced it found another 2.4 million individuals’ information had been compromised. Equifax, which is one of four major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., reported people’s names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and credit information had been stolen. Unfortunately, this is just one of many significant examples of the growth in cybercrime and why you should care about cybersecurity.
The Risk of Identity Theft
One of the greatest risks related to cybercrime, like the Equifax hack, is identity theft. This offense typically entails another individual using your personal information to fraudulently obtain money, products, or services.
When an individual has your personal information, they have the ability to drain your bank accounts, rack up debt in your name, and commit crimes using your information as an alias. Without your knowledge, you could end up with massive credit card debt, loans, and mortgages in your name. Your credit score could suddenly decrease to an unhealthy level. It may take you months or years to clear your name with the businesses that believe you owe them money.
It can also take a great deal of work to get these transactions off of your credit report and to get your credit score back up to where it was before, including working with law enforcement, financial institutions, and the credit reporting agencies to have fraudulent transactions taken off your record and your credit score recalculated. There are government resources available to help at Identitytheft.gov, which provides a thorough list of steps to follow after identity theft. In many situations, people do not call a lawyer right away. However, you may benefit from hiring an attorney who specializes in identity theft. Your attorney can guide you through the complicated recovery process and represent you to financial institutions who may be difficult to deal with.
“There’s no greater headache than having your identity compromised,” says Data Breach & Cybersecurity Practices Leader Gary M. Schober, of Hodgson Russ. “The reason why I put it that way is because you will eventually get to a position where your identity has been restored, and you probably won’t have suffered any significant economic loss, but that will only occur after you go through a fair amount of pretty intense aggravation. Just like if you’ve ever lost your wallet or your purse and had to start with your credit cards all over again. It’s time-consuming, it’s aggravating, and in the meantime, your ability to go about life’s ordinary functions is hampered.”
When someone impersonates you or has used your information to obtain a driver’s license, the consequences move beyond your finances. If that individual commits crimes under your name, you could end up with warrants out for your arrest. It can be difficult to know whether there is a warrant in your name until you are contacted by the police. An online search will not turn up an unserved warrant because it is not in the public record. Depending on the nature of the crime, law enforcement agents may seek you out at home or work. Or, if you have a minor run-in with the law, like a speeding ticket, the warrant may come up for the police and you will be arrested. Unfortunately, you may not be able to prevent the arrest. It is a good idea to work with an experienced defense attorney to prove that your identity has been stolen and that you are not a criminal.
Cybercrimes Are Increasing
Cybersecurity Ventures, a cybercrime and security researcher, reports damages related to cybercrimes will globally amount to $6 trillion annually by 2021. These damages include lost money, lost productivity, damage, and destruction of data, intellectual property theft, personal and financial data theft, fraud, embezzlement, and more to individuals and businesses.
If you consistently use the internet and place your personal and financial information online, it is impossible to ignore the rapid growth of cybercrime and the likelihood that it may impact you in the future. You need to take action to protect your personal information online and in hard copy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends you:
- Lock up your personal information at home.
- Limit the personal information you carry in your wallet, purse, or backpack.
- Shred old documents with personal information, such a bank statements, credit card statements, and medical records.
- Use strong passwords for your electronics and online accounts and keep those passwords private.
- Do not save your credit or debit card information with websites.
- Only share your Social Security Number when you absolutely need to.
- Use security software on your computer.
- Do not use open and unprotected Wi-Fi networks.
- Lock your laptop and other mobile devices.
- Make sure your laptop, phone, and other devices are completely wiped before you dispose of them.
Know Before it’s too Late
Keeping an eye on your bank statements and flagging any suspicious charges can help you to stop the identity theft before it becomes too severe.
“In the case of a business the process [of protection] begins before the breach occurs, and that’s true of an individual as well,” Schober says. “There are lots of vendors out there that will monitor your name and who you are on the internet and look for anything that looks deviant from what is normal. You probably don’t see as many individuals focusing on this issue beforehand, simply because people being people they think this will never happen to them and so they don’t worry about it.”
Scrupulous as you may be, you might not know your information has been exposed—or your security compromised—until major news, like a data breach, is released. If you had accounts with MyFitnessPal, Yahoo, or Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks OFF 5th, the FTC has specific instructions and resources available to you on their website.
Seek Legal Help
You may or may not need a lawyer’s help after your identity is stolen. If you are only dealing with one bank account or credit card, the matter may be solved directly with the financial institution. Most likely, you only need an attorney if the identity theft went on for a significant period of time and has led to significant consequences for you.
Depending on the case, you may have the right to sue the party at fault for the theft of your information, such as the thief or the company that failed to protect your identity. For example, following an extensive data breach like the one related to Equifax, there may be a class action lawsuit against the business.
“It’s a fascinating area that’s not going to go away,” Schober says of cybersecurity and the importance of data protection. “I probably get a new project multiple times a week—whether it’s ransomware, or whether it’s just a virus that gets downloaded or whatever, there’s a lot of this stuff going on and it’s really, really important before it happens to make sure you’re careful, and after it happens make sure you move quickly.”
If you are interested in pursuing your legal rights through an individual or class action lawsuit, you should speak with a lawyer.