Largest Identity Theft Ring Charged
Are you one of the 200,000,000+ Americans (almost 66% of the US population) who had their identity stolen from TJ Maxx, Marshalls, BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 or DSW?
If so, you need to know that 11 people, including a Secret Service informant, have been charged in connection with those retail data breaches. In other words, the spies (in this case, a crime ring syndicate) have been caught.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that your stolen identity is now safe. Most likely, your data was either used or sold off within days of being stolen from the retailer – long before you were even notified of the identity theft.
Nor does it mean that you will receive any compensation or redress for what was taken from you (your money, your time, your name and possibly your reputation).
The companies that were targeted, like TJX, will receive little in return, either. Their collective costs from the data breaches are so high that the government won’t even hazard a guess. The TJX breach alone has been estimated to cost TJX upwards of $1 Billion.
But there is good news. The indictments mean that the Department of Justice is actively pursing and prosecuting large identity theft crime rings, and even catching some of them. This is significant because it sends a signal to future identity theft rings that they cannot work without some regard for being punished for their illegal activities. Unfortunately, since 8 of the 11 people charged operated outside of the US, there is no way for the DOJ to effectively bring them to justice. Which means they continue in their highly profitable and highly illegal business.
It also means that corporations and government institutions will come under immense profit pressure to analyze and fix data security weaknesses like the wireless routers left relatively unprotected by these retailers (they didn’t properly encrypt their wireless networks, leaving access to their systems open to anyone driving by with a laptop computer and sniffing software).
The best news of all, however, is a statement made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who, commenting on the indictments, said:
Today’s indictments are a reminder of a growing threat that every American faces in the 21st century — the fact that each individual’s greatest asset is their names, their identity.
Chertoff underscores and acknowledges what we, as victims, already understand – that your identity, your name, your personally identifying information, is your most valuable asset in life. It is worth everything you have, financially and even emotionally. As the government begins to recognize the profitability of protecting it’s citizens’ identities, so too will corporate America recognize the unparalleled costs of ignoring data breach, identity theft and the value of it’s customer data, employee records and intellectual capital. And as they come to grips with the financial burden of data breach, they will begin to aggressively educate their workforce on the means to prevent it.
There is hope.