During just the first nine months of 2008, 516 incidents of consumer data breaches were reported by corporations, governments and universities in the United States. According to a report released on October 6, 2008, most of these data breaches were the work of hackers or due to employee theft or error.
The report was released by the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit group that works to prevent fraud. The group found that data breaches are on the rise.
Currently, an average of 57 data breaches that expose personal consumer information - often affecting thousands or even millions of people at a time - occur each month. During 2007, 446 data breach incidents were reported. By the close of 2008, there will have been an estimated 680 blocks of consumer data reported lost or stolen.
The Washington Post reported that approximately 80 percent of all reported data breaches involve digital records. The remaining 20 percent of reported data breaches involve exposure, loss or theft of paper-based records.
From January through September 2008, approximately 30 million consumer records containing sensitive information have been exposed. That means that 30 million Americans have already become potential identity theft victims this year.
The sad news is that experts say that this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Currently, there is no federal requirement for companies, agencies or schools that experience a data breach or loss to say exactly how many consumers nationwide may have been affected by the breach.
Linda Foley, the founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center, says that it is difficult to tell if more data breaches are occurring, if they are now more easily detected or if more companies and organizations are complying with state data breach notification laws.
Forty states now require companies, agencies and schools to notify consumers in their states when a data breach has potentially exposed residents' personal and financial data. However, in almost 42 percent of the data breaches that have been reported so far in 2008, the affected entities have failed to disclose the total number of people nationwide who may be at risk for identity theft due to the breaches.
During 2007, the Identity Theft Resource Center recorded 446 data theft incidents that exposed more than 127 million consumer records. Almost three-fourths of these 127 million consumer records that were reportedly exposed were the product of the monumental TJX Inc. data breach.
However, in 40 percent of the data breaches reported in 2007, the affected entities did not report how many consumers nationwide may have been put at risk for identity theft. The omission of this information in 40 percent of data breach incidents makes it difficult for true and accurate statistics to be compiled.
To further complicate the reporting of data breaches, the resource center counts breaches by contractors as a single incident, no matter how many of the contractor's clients may have been affected.
So far during 2008, most data breaches (more than 36 percent) in the United States have been at businesses. Schools were second on the list with 21 percent of data breaches. Military, state and federal government data breaches have declined each of the last three years and currently account for only 16 percent of data breaches.
Employee or insider data theft was reportedly the cause of 16.5 percent of data breaches this year and 13.4 percent were attributed to hacking. However, a greater percentage of data breaches were easily preventable.
Stolen laptops and digital media storage devices caused 20 percent of data breaches this year. Another 14 percent have been caused by careless accidents, such as Social Security numbers and other sensitive information being posted to public websites or sent out via e-mail.
No one can be completely protected against data breaches and the potential for identity theft, but there are things that can be done to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.
Identity theft can often lead to many financial problems from poor credit ratings and creditor harassment to bankruptcy and foreclosure.
Financial problems after identity theft can cause credit problems that may span for years. If you have been a victim of identity theft and would like to speak with a bankruptcy lawyer about your options, we can help.
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