When it comes to hacking, the aim isn’t always fraud

The credit data agency Experian could be facing criminal investigations, fines and class action lawsuits, after a hack that compromised the records of 15 million people, all of them customers of the wireless carrier T-Mobile.

And while this may appear just like any other hacking story — there’s a breach, a promise of free credit monitoring, investigations — this time Social Security numbers were among the data compromised. When it’s not just a credit card number, stolen data can create all kinds of headaches.

People can have fake tax returns filed in their name, fraudulant car loans and even mortgages. And when it comes to identity theft, the onus is on the victims. When the fraudsters don’t pay up, banks and loan collectors can come after the victims, instead. And it could take victims of fraud years to clear their name and financial histories.

“Law enforcement can’t deal with the volume” of fraud, said Chester Wisniewski, a senior adviser at the security firm Sophos. “If you approach the FBI, they’re not really interested if the crime is less than $1 million.”

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