Santa Fe New Mexican

Identity theft difficult to pin on specific data hacks

- By Anick Jesdanun

NEW YORK — Data breaches through hacking attacks are distressin­gly common these days, and personal details about you can lead to identity theft, such as credit cards and loans in your name. But it’s hard to pin the blame on any specific hack, as the most sophistica­ted criminals combine data from multiple attacks to better impersonat­e you.

“That’s why fraud can be emotionall­y challengin­g,” said Kyle Marchini, a specialist in fraud management at the financial research group Javelin. “There’s no way to identify where it came from or what I could have done to prevent that.”

While the number of reported breaches decreased slightly last year to 1,244, according to the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center, the total number of records exposed more than doubled to 447 million. That suggests hackers are focusing on larger organizati­ons with bigger payoffs.

Criminal rings often buy datasets from multiple hacks to commit fraud. The idea is to collect enough informatio­n to get past ID verificati­on and authentica­tion checks that banks and other institutio­ns employ. One database with your Social Security number might have your old address, but hackers can simply substitute your current one from a more recent database.

“We’re in this vicious cycle,” said Eva Velasquez, the ID theft center’s CEO. “We create and capture and use more and more data points about a specific individual in order to fight fraud. That makes data more valuable to the thieves, so they are going to increase the efforts to get that data.”

Researcher­s estimate that the average victim spends 18 hours dealing with the fallout, including convincing collection agencies and credit-ratings agencies that the accounts weren’t really theirs.

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