Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan warned consumers about the dangers of identity theft and urged them to take defensive measures in the form of credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.
"Identity theft is a serious threat to consumers," she told ABC News. "It's critical to start incorporating extra precautions in your daily routine to limit the damage done as a result of a data breach."
Madigan addressed the issue because at least one half of U.S. companies have suffered a data breach, the latest victim being Jimmy John's sandwich restaurant. The hack affected 216 stores across 37 states, taking place from mid-June to mid-September. The company is drawing fire for failing to alert consumers to the breach until now, although its security team discovered malware on point of sale machines in late July. Madigan's office is currently leading an investigation into the breach.
Identity theft is an important issue for Madigan, who passed a law years ago mandating that businesses reveal data breaches to consumers.
“All too often these companies don’t have security measures in place,” she said. “They are failing to encrypt our information; they are failing to update software when there is a known security problem.”
Since businesses are seemingly not investing the necessary time and money into defensive strategies, it's up to consumers to protect themselves from cyber-attacks. Madigan offered these tips:
- Check your statements: Go over your credit and debit card statements frequently to look for unauthorized transactions. You should always be aware of the activity on your card.
- Enable transaction alerts: Update your credit card settings to alert you to any transactions that are made over a certain dollar limit. Time is of the essence in cases of fraud, so the sooner you can report suspicious activity to your bank the smoother the process of removing those charges will go.
- Look at your credit reports: It's your responsibility to detect any errors on your credit report, so be sure to look at yours frequently. A poor credit score can lead to you paying much more in loans and mortgages, all of which can add up to a significant sum. It seems like a pain, but it's definitely worth your time to keep up-to-date with your score.
- Use strong, unique passwords for each account: Jimmy John's data breach occurred when criminals logged into the system using false credentials, enabling them to install the malware that lifted card information. So many security problems can be prevented by creating long, randomized and unique passwords that will be difficult for cybercriminals to guess. If you are having trouble keeping track of these complex passwords, try utilizing a password manager to keep your information encrypted and secure.
- Use your credit card over your debit card: You are liable to pay more in damages for fraudulent debit card charges than for fraudulent credit card charges, because policy for debit card theft hinges on when you report the crime. For example, if you report a stolen debit card after two days of the fraudulent charges you can be liable for over $500.
Madigan is passionate about this topic, and wants to help protect consumers from becoming victims. The Identity Theft Unit that she heads has so far assisted over 35,000 victims of data breaches remove over $26 million from their credit.