Michigan Ranked Among Worst States For Identity Theft: Here's How To Protect Yourself

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We rely on technology more heavily than ever before, which explains why cyber crime continues to make national headlines. From the DNC to Equifax, technological thievery seems to becoming more prevalent and emboldened over time. And according to a recent analysis, Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation in terms of both identity theft and fraud. In a world where data breaches and cyber security threats have almost become the norm, here's what you need to know to protect yourself and even your business from being victimized.
 

WalletHub Ranks Michigan As Sixth Worst For Identity Theft And Fraud

 
This 2017 analysis gives Michigan the number six spot overall for identity theft and fraud, although the state is ranked eighth for identity theft specifically and tenth for fraud ranking in terms of vulnerability. Michigan actually has the second-most identity theft complaints per capita; only Washington, D.C. is more vulnerable in this category. The state is also ranked fourth on the most fraud complaints per capita.
 
The Michigan Attorney General's Office has suggested that the analysis could be skewed and that the situation in Michigan might not be as bad as it seems.
 
Andrea Bitely, spokesperson for the office, told Freep.com, "It could be underreported in other states," and added, "the more people in a state, the more likely you are to be up at the top." 
 
That said, the office -- which has a responsibility to protect consumers -- is not taking the report lightly. The report was aptly released last month, which was designated as National Cyber Security Awareness Month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
 

No One Is Safe From Cyber Crime

 
Of course, many Michigan residents are still reeling from the announcement of the Equifax breach. Equifax officials recently announced that an additional 2.5 million people might have been impacted by the breach; Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently announced that 80,000 more local residents might have been impacted than what original reports showed. Official estimates say that, in total, 4.6 million Michiganders may have had their information compromised by the breach.
 
The WalletHub report explains, "Equifax has proven that absolutely no one is immune to cybercrime. In September 2017, the credit bureau announced that it had fallen victim to one of the biggest data breaches in recent history."
 
The Equifax disaster may have huge legal ramifications. While there is currently no coherent set of standards pertaining to cyber security breaches and practices (as they vary from state to state and even within industries), victims of these crimes do have more options to hold companies responsible. Although only 1% of civil cases today actually reach trial in federal courts, it's likely that Equifax will have to answer for their negligence in one way or another. More than two dozen lawsuits were filed against Equifax in September; these suits will most likely be combined into one piece of national litigation, according to Fortune.
 

How You Can Protect Yourself And Your Business

 
Our reliance on technology isn't going to decrease anytime soon. We use our gadgets and the internet for virtually everything, and that has a big impact on businesses across all industries. By 2022, the global printed circuit board market -- which is responsible for making products found in just about every kind of electronic device on the planet -- is projected to reach $72.6 billion. But just because we require technology for everything doesn't mean we have to give up our personal information.
 
On a basic level, experts recommend that you always use strong passwords, particularly on financial accounts; to regularly update your information; to not open any emails or click links you don't recognize; and to use a credit monitoring service to keep tabs on your credit report. Equifax is offering one year of identity theft protection, free of charge, to all U.S. consumers (even if they were not impacted by the breach). The Michigan Attorney General's Office's consumer protection team has set up an alert entitled "Credit Freeze; Fraud Alert and Credit Monitoring." Residents can find out more at www.michigan.gov/ag.
 
The state also recently signed a bill into law to expand the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps, a highly trained volunteer group of experts that can be called in if the state, local government, nonprofit organizations, or private businesses in Michigan are hit by a data breach or cyber attack.
 
Businesses do need to take preventative measures, too. Although many small businesses don't think they're vulnerable to attacks like these, data shows that an overwhelming number of SMBs encounter data breaches. Those operating in highly regulated industries like finance or healthcare are regulated by specific security measures, but other types of small businesses aren't subject to federal data security laws. However, in certain situations, your small business may still be required to take steps to protect the personal information of certain consumers; if you fail to take those steps, your business could be held liable for a breach. You might also be bound by third-party contracts to protect and secure data, and a failure to do so could result in a breach of contract lawsuit. These types of cases make up 33% of all civil cases filed in state courts and this threat must be taken seriously. You must have a clear idea of all laws and regulations pertaining to security measures for your business. Even if you aren't subject to these requirements, you should encrypt data, update software, restrict and secure access, monitor vulnerabilities, educate employees, require vendors to use security measures, and have a breach response plan in place.
 
Security breaches can be extremely stressful and could have a huge impact on your future. In general, it's a good idea to limit how much you share your personal information and go above and beyond to safeguard what matters to you most. Most importantly, don't assume that you won't become a victim. If we've learned anything from recent news stories, we know that literally anyone can be impacted.

For full story, pick up a copy of the MONTH XX issue of The Allegan County News/The Union Enterprise/The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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