AST Digital Magazine July/August 2016 - Page 45

Volume 6 Identity Theft: Even One Victim Affects Us All By Eva Casey Velasquez - Identity Theft Resource Center President/CEO Eva Casey Velasquez, Identity Theft Resource Center President/CEO It’s strange to think that identity theft used to be somewhat more manageable, especially given the horror stories of this crime’s early victims and their attempts at recovering their lives. When identity theft first became a widespread crime that targeted individuals, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors didn’t even know where to begin investigating or making an arrest. Banks and credit card companies had no mechanism for recognizing the fraud and helping the victim overcome the sudden debt. It was a crime that everyone had to learn about together in order to find a resolution, but at the same time, it was such a small-scale type of crime that it was almost unheard of. Unfortunately, the digit al age has meant the days of check washing or dumpster diving for individual identities are largely behind us. With a few keystrokes, a hacker can steal millions of identities and sell them on the dark web for dollars apiece. It’s easier than ever to steal identities and turn a profit, even as the law has caught up in some measure with hunting perpetrators and protecting victims. How big is the issue? Identity theft has grown into such a widespread problem that President Barack July-Aug 2016 Edition Obama recently declared it a threat to our national security. With record numbers of data breaches and large-scale attacks like the Office of Personnel Management breach that stole the identities of more than 22 million people—including all federal employees who had high-level security clearances—it’s not hard to connect the dots and see how serious a threat this really is. According to the White House, “But just as the continually evolving digital age presents boundless opportunities for our economy, our businesses, and our people, it also presents a new generation of threats that we must adapt to meet. Criminals, terrorists, and countries who wish to do us harm have all realized that attacking us online is often easier than attacking us in person. As more and more sensitive data is stored online, the consequences of those attacks grow more significant each year. Identity theft is now the fastest growing crime in America.” Despite the recognition of the threat, there’s no limit in sight for the value of our information. Even while understanding that hackers and identity thieves stand to make unheard of profits off our data, we can’t help but leave a trail of “digital exhaust” everywhere we go, to use a phrase coined by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt, authors of The Human Face of Big Data. Our homes, our smartcars, our Internet of Things-connected appliances, our mobile devices, and even our bodies produce a wealth of information that can be sold or used against us, and therefore becomes a sought-after target. Everything we do—from keeping tabs on our locations through our smartphones to gathering and storing our physical biometric indicators—produces a set of data markers that have value to someone. Our identifying information is put out there every single day for anyone with the right skills to access. As Smolan and Erwitt have uncovered, there’s an entire industry—both on the right side of the law and the wrong side—based on the buying and selling of our identifiers. Businesses will pay for infor45