Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft in Washington D.C.

What to do when a data breach hits

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While the cyber hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment uncovered confidential emails that titillated Hollywood, it also exposed more than 47,000 Social Security numbers of past and present employees, and company financials. In the past year and a half alone, customer information from Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, Staples and Goodwill was also compromised.

“Think about the information imprint that the average consumer creates today versus 10 years ago,” says Kurt Wimmer of Covington & Buring. “Each time you make an online purchase, send a text message, click an online advertisement or download a new app on your smartphone, this creates a new thread of data.”

Most of this electronic information is stored by businesses. “To hackers, these are prized commodities,” says Marc S. Martin, partner at Perkins Coie. “As the size of the data pie increases, so too will hackers’ attempts to breach it.”

Even as corporations and financial institutions are coming up with new data safeguards, hackers are devising ways to infiltrate them.

WHEN THE BREACH HITS

If you suspect your information has been compromised, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan’s Chris Griner says:

  • Collect copies of statements that indicate fraud and document the date on which you discovered a problem.
  • Alert your financial services provider immediately.
  • Notify any entities that make direct deposits into your account of the suspected breach

Also notify the three main credit-reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your account, notes Martin. It “will make it harder for bad actors to open unauthorized credit accounts,” he says. “It also provides you free access to your credit report, which will help you determine if any unauthorized credit accounts have been opened in your name.” 

If only one credit card has been compromised, and the breach was discovered early, you can generally resolve the issue with the financial institution, Griner says. He recommends that identity theft victims file an Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit at FTC.gov.

Identity-theft protection services are an option, too. However, “Personal diligence remains important,” Griner says. “The only secure computer may be the one that is never used.”

    Washington DC

    PROTECT YOURSELF FROM A CYBER ATTACK

    • Instead of the usual password, such as a child’s name followed by numbers, use a series of words with numbers and special characters, says DC’s Chris Griner. Change passphrases about every 90 days, and stress the importance of securing personal data to family members.
    • Pay attention to correspondence from major retailers or banks. According to Griner, 47 states have laws requiring private or government entities to notify customers if personal information has been compromised. He suggests you verify the authenticity of any correspondence—it could be a scam.
    • Regularly review credit card and bank statements for unexpected charges, even small ones. “Identity thieves often test consumers with charges of less than a dollar to see if the consumer is watching,” says Kurt Wimmer. If the charge goes unnoticed, they “pull the trigger” on larger purchases.
    • Remove all personal and financial information from mobile devices before discarding, Marc S. Martin says.

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