There's a moment in time when a series of unsettling coincidences coalesces into a pattern. Well, that moment is upon us. HSBC
- Last year, a hack attack forced wholesaler BJ's
(NYSE:BJ)to order the largest replacement of credit cards in history.
- In mid-February of this year, data collator ChoicePoint
(NYSE:CPS)began notifying 145,000 potential victims that their data had been mistakenly made available to a ring of fraudsters with apparent ties to Nigerian organized crime.
- Soon thereafter, information company Reed Elsevier
(NYSE:ENL)noticed that certain individuals had accessed databases of its Seisint subsidiary, in a data theft that, at last report, had affected well over 300,000 people.
- Next came the news that Retail Ventures
(NYSE:RVI)had suffered a hack of credit information on customers of more than half of its 175 DSW stores.
- And finally, we had Bank of America
(NYSE:BAC)reportedly "losing" 1 million customer records stored on computer backup tapes.
Rhetorical question time: Anybody see a pattern here?
That all these incidents are clustered within just a few years is one clue that there may be some unifying factor. That so many of the incidents, some of which occurred as long as two or more years ago, were just announced in the past few months, suggests that we're not looking at copycat crimes here. It takes more than a couple of months to go from "Hey, that's a cool way to steal stuff," to "Aha, and I know how to do it myself."
As luck would have it, Bank of America's gaffe involved the loss of account records of U.S. senators, and that has helped galvanize Congress to consider taking action. But as bad luck would have it, Congress appears inclined to blame the victims and is focusing most of its energy on grilling data companies about their security.
That's part of the problem, true. But at the same time, Congress should also look into why all of these attacks are happening right now, and who might be behind all this mischief. Until that's known, there's no reason to expect the crime wave to break any time soon. Until it does, the Foolish course of action is for all of us to be a bit more wary and a bit more diligent about monitoring our credit and bank accounts, lest we, too, become victims of this high-tech crime spree.
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.