Identity Theft in 2013: The Battle for Your Data

Identity theft is big business, and the bad guys want to make this their most profitable year ever. So expect repeated, persistent attacks on government databases -- followed by rage from a frustrated citizenry demanding (but not getting) action. Expect an increasing tidal wave of fraudulent business and individual tax returns and refunds filed by criminals in the names of legitimate taxpayers. And remember, criminals file early!

Data breach fallout. To confront the inevitable surge in attacks, 2013 should be the year of mandatory encryption, stringent security, and tough legislation holding negligent data stewards accountable; and "accountable," dear friends, means doing hard time, not mouthing lukewarm mea culpas. I would prefer to say "will be" -- but given the inability of Congress to agree on even the mundane, like the hour of the day -- action seems unlikely. At this rate, we may be forced to rely on the ultimate regulators of our economic system -- class-action attorneys.

Strategic realignment. When we are truly focused on this issue, a depressingly rare occurrence indeed, we are playing by an arcane set of rules in the face of a highly sophisticated, totally committed, stealthy, deadly, hydra-headed opponent who knows no rules of engagement.

To properly address this threat, nothing short of a Manhattan Project, or a renewed commitment to the kind of national effort that put a man on the moon will suffice. Complete cooperation, collaboration and communication among all levels of government, law enforcement, the business community, consumer advocates, individuals and the media must be achieved.

Taking the fight to the criminals is exactly what we must do -- along with shoring up our corporate and individual defenses and demanding that our lawmakers take this fight seriously. This is war -- and whether the attacks come from hackers in Latvia, agents in Beijing, a botnet stretched across the globe, or the quiet employee in the next office, the adversary is the same, as is the M.O. These guys have one more thing in common: They play for keeps. So should we. Perhaps 2013 will be the year we start to get it right.

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Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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