In a world driven by data, the consequences of data theft are more significant than ever. We explore real-life data theft stories and provide valuable tips to help you stay secure in a digital age where your information is constantly at risk.
The odds of experiencing a data breach are alarmingly high. In 2022, a substantial portion of the UK’s £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion USD) in fraud losses was attributed to identity theft alone. To underscore the gravity of data protection, we’ve pinpointed the five major consequences of data theft, supported by real-life narratives. Read on to discover how individuals and businesses can shield themselves from the perils of data theft.
Case 1: Personal Data for Fraudulent Purchases and Bank Accounts
Imagine receiving a call from your bank asking if you’ve been on a shopping spree for exotic pets. This is precisely what Ana (not her real name) experienced. Criminals had pilfered her credit card information, buying $8,000 worth of iguanas, cockatoos, and butterfly fish.
Data thieves employ stolen information to pay for a wide array of expenses, from restaurant bills to medical treatments. They can also open bank accounts in the victim’s name, max out credit lines, and vanish, leaving the victim to deal with the aftermath.
Case 2: Unwanted Loans and Debts
Meet Jack, who diligently saved for an apartment. One fateful day, he left his wallet on top of his car in a mall parking lot, only to find it vanished when he returned. His wallet contained crucial identification documents.
Soon, Jack began receiving bills for loans with staggering interest rates – loans he never applied for. His life became a bureaucratic nightmare, continually proving to authorities and collection agencies that he was innocent. His credit history was tarnished, rendering him ineligible for a car loan, mortgage, or even a credit card. He ended up in a cash-only apartment overrun by cockroaches.
These stories are based on real-life experiences reported by readers of Buzzfeed and KrebsonSecurity.
Case 3: Blackmail and Extortion
Data breaches can lead to blackmail scenarios where hackers threaten victims by exposing their confidential information unless a ransom is paid. This sensitive information can encompass private photos, videos, personal stories, corporate secrets, health records, or any data the victim would prefer to keep private.
Between 2018 and 2020, hackers stole confidential records from thousands of psychotherapy patients in Finland. They demanded bitcoin payments from these victims to prevent public disclosure.
Businesses are not immune to the threat of blackmail. In 2015, criminals hacked into TalkTalk Telecom Group’s customer data. The hackers demanded 465 bitcoins as ransom, threatening to sell the data and ruin the company’s reputation.
Case 4: Compromised Tax Refunds
Tax identity theft can be financially devastating, as Allison’s story illustrates. Her name, Social Security Number, and birth date were used to file a fraudulent tax return, resulting in a $4,000 refund. By the time she discovered the fraud, she was facing over $14,000 in expenses, including purportedly unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest.
Case 5: Criminal Identity Theft
Imagine being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. Jonah Scott Miller experienced this when he was stopped by police for a minor traffic violation. The officers found an outstanding warrant linked to his name, although Jonah had never been in trouble with the law. It was later revealed that an old childhood friend had used Jonah’s identity during an arrest. Although Jonah was released the next day, the experience was harrowing.
This is known as criminal identity theft, a situation that can lead to emotional distress, imprisonment (one victim spent 43 days in jail), and lasting damage to one’s reputation.
Nicole Ortiz, whose identity was used for rental scams, expressed her ordeal: “How do you recover from this?… Now, my name is basically tarnished. People are always going to look at my name and remember something like this.”