This weekend begins an annual American tradition of holiday buying, with purchases increasingly being made online. Most of us who have shopped online have personally experienced or heard of someone else experiencing some form of identity theft or at least an unauthorized purchase.
Our legal rights concerning online activities are essentially no different than our legal rights in general. If something is taken from us without our consent, that taking is theft. Theft is a cause of action upon which we can rely in attempting to recover what was taken.
Typically, if something is wrongfully taken from us, we can request assistance from law enforcement or conduct our own investigation to determine who took from us and initiate a lawsuit, if necessary, to recover what was stolen. However, when it comes to online theft of our identities or money, we seldom know or can determine who actually was involved. And, even if we know who was responsible, we can struggle to know how or where to undertake steps to recover what was taken.
I recommend three steps to preclude cyber theft, and three additional steps if a cyber theft happens despite prevention efforts.
It would be foolish for me to leave $50 cash on my truck seat with doors unlocked while my truck is parked, unattended. Similar foolishness when transacting business online is not as obvious.
First, do not use public Wi-Fi when making online purchases or when logging into bank and credit card accounts. Even checking the balance on an account while on public Wi-Fi can make all aspects of the account easily accessible to third parties.
Second, if possible, place online orders within apps. App is the common term used for an application, which is essentially a computer program that typically operates on a secure, separate network that links directly with a retailer.
Third, I also recommend purchasing LifeLock, which is a private service that monitors and tries to lock each subscriber’s credit report, which essentially precludes cyber criminals from creating new accounts under the subscriber’s name.
However, even after taking the most diligent, proactive steps, we find that thieves can still sometimes steal money or identities.
Upon first knowing of an unauthorized cyber transaction, contact the administrator (usually a bank or credit union) that manages the affected account. Almost every account administrator has insurance for unauthorized transactions made from each account.
Then also take inventory of all other accounts to either freeze the other accounts or at least confirm that the theft was limited to a single account.
Finally, try to detach emotionally from the theft. Because of our strong expectation of privacy when it comes to our money, people can be extra emotional in the event of a cyber theft. The feeling of violation and vulnerability when someone has your identity or account information can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, the thief will likely never be caught, even by an insurance company, so work to mentally accept the setback and avoid it in the future.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.