A prominent Colchester, VT business was recently the victim of a ransomware attack that resulted in their customer names, addresses, and other personally identifiable information being stolen by hackers. The Vermont based company, had nearly a decade worth of sales information siphoned off in the attack.
The lack of an easy and secure process to confirm identities has led to a boom in fraud, theft, and the erosion of privacy.
Data breaches and identity theft have become so commonplace that the FBI says there are few people who haven’t been the victim of identity theft. 2017 alone saw 16.7 million new victims of identity theft being reported and a 44.7% increase in data breaches over the previous year.
Identity theft occurs when a bad actor obtains an individual’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and exploits it for their own financial gain.
Criminals can purchase this information cheaply on the dark web, where most PII ends up after being exposed in a corporate data breach. With your PII in hand, the bad actor can then go on to rack up credit card debt, take out loans, and open bank accounts all in your name.
The impact of identity theft can be devastating for your credit report and your future.
The information in your credit report is sold to employers, insurance companies, and creditors. If you don’t catch on to fraudulent activity early, you may be denied a mortgage, credit line, or new job offer as a result of a criminal’s bad actions conducted in your good name.
Your first line of defense against identity theft is awareness.
There’s nothing you can do to prevent data breaches from occurring at organizations in whom we trust our information to, but there are measures they can take to discover when someone is trying to steal their identity before it’s too late. A simple and free step you can take is checking the accuracy of your credit reports.
There are three main credit reporting agencies in the United States -TransUnion, Experian, Equifax- and you’re entitled to one free credit report every year from each of them. You can receive all three reports at once or spread them out over the year. It’s important that you receive and review all three reports, regardless of the timeline you choose to receive them, because each agency collects and reports information from different sources.
It’s especially important to verify any new accounts being opened in your name. If you find inaccuracies on your report, this is a key first indicator that someone may be committing fraud in your name. When an anomaly is found in your report, you need to make a request for review to your credit agency and document your request in writing. After this, you should mail a dispute letter to the creditor who reported the item you’re questioning.
If you become seriously concerned that you may be the victim of identity theft, you can place a freeze on your credit report for free. By placing a freeze on your account you seal outside access to your file, it can only be accessed by using a special PIN number known only by you. This extra security measure prevents scammers from establishing credit in your name, even if they have all of your PII.