Throughout this election season there has been a steady stream of compromised online security. From WikiLeaks hacking Hillary Clinton's Campaign Chair's e-mail to the recent cyber-attack that caused massive internet outages across the United States. Security experts say no one is safe, and now some governments are hand writing their intelligence communications instead of sending them electronically. It makes one wonder, if are breaches on such large scales, then how is the average consumer supposed to protect themselves?
Jeff Curley is one of the tens of thousands of Americans who ask that question every day. “I check my bank account every evening, one evening I tried to log in and noticed my password had been changed without me having done it,” he says, adding, “the bank didn't flag it and didn't contact me.”
But what makes Curley’s tale even more harrowing is that it's tied to a six year old memory that tore his family apart. “My son was suffering from depression,” he explains, “and when he chose to end his own life which he actually did right here at our house.”
Since then Curley has been using Alan's passion for music through the non-profit Pick With Austin to help others who are suffering too. “We use music to help at risk kids and teens fighting depression,” he says of the foundations’ mission.
When the thieves attacked his personal bank account, they unknowingly nearly destroyed the non-profit too because the accounts are linked. It's been nine months and he's still dealing with the fall out. “All of the donations coming from corporate donations suddenly stopped because the account numbers had changed and they weren't able to make those deposits.”
Curley says whoever's behind the attack not only impersonated him to drain his bank account, they also opened up credit cards in his name, racking up $30,000 in charges. While he says those were reversed and the money returned to his account, he filed a police report. But because he has no idea how they got his information or where the person is, Curley says he fears no one will ever be held accountable.
Stratfor’s Vice President of Intelligence, Fred Burton, explains why, “unless it's a local kind of case where suspects can be identified in a specific venue, you can't get a lot of police attention to a specific problem so then it's pushed back onto the Federal Government.” And he adds, “that's where you get back to the Federal Government is trying to defend our national security assets, and as many federal agencies have told us at times, it's difficult for them to protect themselves.”
Burton has been described as one of the United States’ top security experts. He joined the global intelligence firm Stratfor after a nearly two decade stint with the Federal Government working in counter terrorism. “Until you experience this yourself, you really don't realize how bad it can be,” he says.
And he should know. Stratfor was one a handful of major companies along with the Federal Government that was hacked almost five years ago. The Stratfor breach included a reported five million internal emails with client data, employee memos, and information on Stratfor policies.
Burton says the company has fully recovered. “It's the kind of issue that is so large,” he says adding, “that you could be attacked by any number of actors depending upon what is actually stolen, whether that is personal history data, Facebook messages, spoofed email addresses or credit card data.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft was the number two most reported complaint in 2015 with 490,220. “You are pushing a boulder up a hill when some of your personal data does get exposed out there because you get a sense that there's no one that can help you,” says Burton.
Curley couldn’t agree more, “it seems like they keep watching you and the minute you put your guard down, they go right back after you.”
He says they try to go after him every chance they get, “Non-stop continues every 90 days, I have to put a freeze on my account so that nobody applies for credit,” he says adding, “if I was to give you a guess I say I probably spend 15% of my business hours working on this, that's 15% of what I lose in my time in business.” And a lot of sleepless nights too, not only protecting his identity but his son Alan's memory, and all of the kids he's trying to protect too. “It makes it difficult,” he says, “to continue to trying to help others when it seems like they are banging at your door trying to stop you.”
Stratfor’s Fred Burton offers the following tops for keeping your identity safe:
- Change your online passwords frequently, to something that isn't easily associated with you.
- When you are on vacation: think about what you are putting online, you could be luring cyber and criminal thieves
- Try to use a home computer to process online transactions, if your work computer or smart phone is stolen or compromised, the thief won't have your personal info
- Sign up with an identity fraud service: but remember it is only as effective as the information you give them
- Make sure to check your credit score regularly