In today’s technology-driven world, we rely on our digital devices for just about everything. The printed circuit boards housed inside our phones, computers, and other gadgets may be tiny, but they represent approximately 31% of the cost of any project — and we’re dependent on them to ensure our devices work in the way they’re intended. Of course, engineers have come up with ways to ensure these boards are protected. But when it comes to whether technology protects us, the answers aren’t quite so clear.
Although the FBI reports a burglary occurs in the U.S. every 15.4 seconds, there’s a lot homeowners can do to protect their property. The same can’t always be said for your personal information, especially when it’s readily available on the world wide web. The reality is that nothing you put on the internet is safe. As we share more information online, the number of risk factors multiplies. Understandably, that means that many more people fall victim to cyber crimes like identity theft every year. In 2017, there were approximately 16.7 million new victims of identity fraud reported. A year prior, these kinds of crimes cost victims $17.5 billion. And while industry experts hope to highlight the need for added awareness from the general public, it’s not likely those incidents will start to decrease any time soon — particularly because the businesses we trust with our information have betrayed us again and again.
The outlook is rather bleak, made even more so by the prolonged government shutdown. In addition to the lost wages and forced labor many government workers are currently dealing with, many of the most pivotal federal agencies have ceased operations to the detriment of the American public. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, isn’t currently conducting food inspections for the most part; those agents who have resumed doing so are working without pay. Experts warn consumers to be cautious when consuming fresh produce, meat, and other items as a result.
The Federal Trade Commission is shut down, too. That’s a problem for anyone who needs to report an incident of identity theft or even add a number to the national Do Not Call Registry. Data from the FTC itself suggests that the agency receives thousands of identity theft complaints on a weekly basis. Now that the government shutdown is headed into its fifth week, there’s no telling how many Americans have been attempting to make these reports but have come up empty. While the government won’t personally intervene in the event of a hack, they do provide valuable information and can help track instances of thefts like these. But without functioning websites with which to do that, consumers are out of luck. Even more worrying is the possibility that the government shutdown could cause web security certificates to expire. That, in turn, could actually make those who attempt to visit those government websites more vulnerable to further malicious attacks.
Industry experts do have some advice for those dealing with identity theft during the shutdown, however. You should pull a copy of your credit report, file a fraud alert with the major credit bureaus, and alert your own financial institutions of the issue. It’s also recommended that you contact the companies at which fraudulent activity may have occurred and ask their fraud department to either freeze or close your account so that no other charges can be incurred.
As of now, there’s no end to the shutdown in sight. In the meantime, everyone should keep a close watch on their financial and personal information, and educate themselves on the signs of identity theft and internet fraud.