Every week the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) takes a look at the most interesting data compromises from the previous week. The ITRC has the most comprehensive databases of information about publicly-reported U.S. data breaches. The ITRC has been compiling data breach information for the last 15 years, recording close to 12,000 publicly-notified data breaches. This week we are highlighting a couple of longer-term unconventional 2020 data breach trends and what is behind them (specifically, publicly-reported breaches in the U.S.) and what cybercriminals are doing with all of the personal information they have stolen the past few years.

Tune in to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s newest podcast – the Weekly Breach Breakdown with host, James Lee, Chief Operating Officer.

Since 2015, data breaches and the number of people impacted has been on the increase, with the exception of one year. However, 2020 is shaping up to be very different. While many believed employees working remotely due to COVID-19 would lead to a spike in data breaches and identity theft, the data tells a different story. The number of publicly-reported data breaches are down 33 percent in the first six months of 2020 over the same period in 2019. More importantly, the number of individuals impacted by data compromises is down 66 percent compared to last year. In the first six months of 2020, the ITRC tracked 540 data breaches and approximately 164 million people affected, including those who received more than one breach notice.

While the 2020 data breach trends are good news for businesses and consumers, the emotional and financial impacts on organizations and individuals due to data breaches are still significant. In fact, the impact on individuals could be even more damaging as criminals use stolen identity information to misappropriate government benefits intended to ease the impact of the coronavirus. While the ITRC sees a drop in data breaches reported, it also sees an increase in reports of identity-related fraud.

There is never just one reason why data breaches go up or down. It is a complicated issue with many moving parts. However, related trends give a clue about one of the primary drivers of the reduction in mass data theft: all the identity information stolen in data breaches over the past few years. In fact, a new research report shows there are 15 billion credentials for sale in the marketplace where identity criminals buy and sell personal information. That is a lot of information – and right now, cybercriminals are cashing in on all of that data by running COVID-19 and other scams that require identity data. Cybercriminals are striking with phishing attacks and other automated attacks using apps designed to crack open accounts using stolen credentials that cost as little as $4.

In other words, right now identity thieves do not need any more data. They are consuming more data than they are gathering. Unless there is a significant increase in the number of reported data compromises, 2020 is on pace to see the lowest number of data breaches and data exposures since 2015, an unconventional 2020 data breach trend that might not have been expected at the beginning of the year – and is counter to other reports. With that said, there is reason to believe the 2020 data breach trends of a lower number of breaches is only temporary.

At some point, cybercriminals will have to update their data warehouses. When they do, the ITRC expects a return to the normal threat pattern. It could happen in the second half of 2020, or early 2021. Whenever it happens, it is not expected to happen overnight. Rather, it is expected to gradually happen over time.

For more information, as well as analysis of the 2020 data breach trends, subscribe to our data breach newsletter.

If someone believes they are a victim of an identity crime or believes their identity has been compromised, they can live-chat with an expert advisor or call toll-free at 888.400.5530 to get started on the resolution process. Victims can also download the free ID Theft Help App. The app lets them track their case in a case log, access resources and tips to help them protect their identity and more.

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