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Consumer Protection and Fraud: The Ongoing Cyber Threat of Ransomware




Ryan R Bradley

Illinois Consumer Protection and Fraud Attorney at Koester & Bradley, LLP

​For Illinois Consumers, Equifax dominates the headlines in cybersecurity, but Ransomware is a serious threat as well.

While large data breaches such at Target and  Equifax dominate the headlines, there are other equally frightening threats lurking on the internet that impact Illinois residents.  Illinois Consumer protection lawyers Koester & Bradley are still noticing a large jump in Ransomware attacks on individuals and businesses alike.  In fact, last week the city of Atlanta was attached and information necessary to run the entire city was held for ransom.  Are Illinois cities and consumers next?

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your screen and prevents access to your computer and its files until you pay a ransom.  Ransomware is not just a problem for large companies and hospitals, it afflicts individual and small to medium sized business as well across Illinois. It has been around in different forms since the mid 2000s and attacks both businesses and individuals with the hackers committing the fraud demanding payment in largely untraceable bitcoin. According to cybersecurity experts Tom Barker and Chris Heuman of Virtual Auditor, unlike earlier ransomware that disabled your computer, recent forms of this malware encrypt your files, which makes their recovery far more difficult. If you don't pay the several hundred-dollar ransom by a certain date, your files will be destroyed.

Champaign Illinois Consumer Protection attorneys Koester & Bradley warn that while there's no guarantee against becoming a victim, there are several measures for Illinois consumers and businesses to take to make an attack less likely and less damaging:

Back Up Your Files
Make frequent file backups to lessen the impact of an attack.  We now know that for Illinois residents, and consumers across the country, it is more probable than not that you will be a victim of cyber crime.  Don't store these files anywhere that's reachable by your computer because the ransomware may find and encrypt them. If you're using an external device for your backups, keep it disconnected from your computer. If you're using cloud services for backup storage, make sure they retain previous versions of your files that you can roll back to in case your most recent files are encrypted.

Backup files make recovery easier because it's just a matter of reinstalling your backups after the malware is removed from your computer and represent the primary way to reduce the damage caused by an attack.

Be Careful With Emails

Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from unfamiliar sources. If the email content from a familiar source seems unusual, it could be ransomware that's exploiting a list of your contacts. When an email is suspicious but plausible, contact the source independently of the email and its attachments.

If you have any questions about an email, even if it is from a send that you do know, verify with the sender and do a Google search for scams that are similar to the email that you received.  

Keep Your Software Updated
Ransomware may exploit known weaknesses of various software. Software providers respond to recently discovered security weaknesses with new version updates that "patch up the hole." Update all software including your firewall and anti-virus.  Additionally, ensure that you computer operating system, usually either Windows of Mac OS, is kept up-to-date.  Moat time you can suet this for automatic updates.

If your computer gets infected, your safest bet is to erase the entire system and reinstall your operating system. After this, scan your computer with an anti-virus that can detect ransomware. Then you can load your files back into your computer from your backups. If your files and backups are infected, don't pay the ransom because you may not get your files back, or the ransomware may attack again. In addition, your money enables the criminal to continue his activities.

The above tips will reduce your risk of becoming a victim and will make recovery from such an attack less painful. If you were impacted by the Equifax breach, keep  these tips in mind to further protect yourself.  Finally, remember that the Illinois Consumer Protection Attorneys at Koester & Bradley are here to help should you become a victim of Cyber Attack. 

Beware of these Scams that Target the Elderly





Across Illinois, Scams and Cyber Threats are Targeting Seniors.  Here are a few You Should Know About

Scams that target the elderly never seem to end.  With the notice and attention that is given to cybersecurity and crimes such as identity theft, it is important to understand that "conventional" and lower-tech scams are still prevalent--particularly regarding senior citizens in central Ill and across the country.  At Koester & Bradley, LLP, we do our best to monitor all potential threats to our clients and community as Illinois personal injury and fraud lawyers.  Here are some more scams that target senior citizens.  Let us know if you are aware of any others to add to the list.

Fake Anti-Aging Products
Elderly people, especially women, often feel a need to look younger. This is a result of social and peer pressure. Scammers target seniors with fake or low-quality anti-aging products. They may not work, may be overpriced, or may have hidden fees -- for example, they may offer a one-month discount option without disclosing that they will be charged exorbitant fees for monthly deliveries after that.  Many of these drugs are actually harmful and dangerous products.

Fake Prescription Drugs
Similar to fake anti-aging products. These fake prescription drugs are cheap, and can often be found on the internet. They may cost less, but they may not work and may even be dangerous.  There are many drugs and devices that are actually prescribed by doctors that are also dangerous to seniors in Illinois such as Xarelto and Pradaxa, so it is wise to avoid subjecting yourself or a loved one to any drug not discussed with a healthcare professional. 

Grandchild Scam
The grandchild scam involves someone telephoning a caring grandparent and pretending to be a beloved grandchild. They can find out the names of their grandchildren from social media. During the phone call, they'll use low-quality audio to conceal their voice, and they will cry about how they are in trouble or in debt and need money to bail themselves out. They'll often say that they can not call their "parents" because their "parents" will be angry at them.

Other Scams
Elderly people who live alone are especially vulnerable to all kinds of phone, mail and cyber scams, such as fake charity scams, fake lottery tickets, fake antivirus companies and so on. Make sure to warn your loved one about these common scams.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of fraud,  contact us today for legal help.  Finally, remember that it is always worth investigation a scam if you or a loved one were a victim even if not sure of all of the details and the legality of the situation.  This is the way that new law is made.
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Practical Measures for the Equifax Dilemma



With the recent hacking of Equifax, personal information of over 143 million Americans were compromised.  Identity thieves gaining access to an individual’s credit report allows them to open new accounts in the victims’ names.  A credit freeze is a security method that restricts access to an individual’s credit report.  New creditors would not be able to see your file and therefore would not be able to approve a new account and extend credit.  Under a credit freeze, existing creditors and debt collectors would still be allowed access to your credit report.  Government agencies may also have access to your frozen credit report with the use of a court or administrative order, a subpoena or a search warrant.  

A credit freeze will not prevent an identity thief from making charges to your existing accounts.  You should continue the process of monitoring all credit card, bank transactions and insurance statements to screen for fraudulent transactions.  A credit freeze does not affect your credit score and will not prevent you from acquiring your free annual credit report.  A credit freeze will also not stop you from opening a new account, applying for a job, buying insurance or renting a home but you will be required to lift the freeze temporarily for a specific time or to specific parties in order for these actions to be approved.  A credit freeze will not stop an individual from getting pre-screened offers of credit.  To opt out of pre-screened offers of credit for 5 years or permanently, you can call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or access the following website, www.optoutprescreen.com.  

You can place a free on your credit reports by contacting nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  You will be required to provide your name, date of birth, Social Security Number, current address and other personal information.  The fee associated with placing a credit freeze is between $5 to $10.  Each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter for your freeze request containing a personal identification number (PIN) or password.  You will need the PIN or password if you choose to lift the freeze at a later date.  
A credit freeze will remain in place until you request the credit reporting company to temporarily lift or completely remove it.  The cost of lifting a credit freeze varies by state.  The freeze must be lifted no later than 3 business days after the credit company receives your request.  

CREDIT FREEZE VS FRAUD ALERT: There is a major difference and trade off between protection and convenience.

We have compiled the most relevant differences to keep in mind when taking action

Credit Freeze
  • Will lock down your credit.
  • Can prevent someone from opening an account but will not prevent charges to existing accounts.
  • Fees associated with request for credit freeze.
  • Fees associate with temporary lift or permanent lift of credit freeze.
  • Obtained by calling nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  

Fraud Alert

  • Allows creditors access to your credit report provided they take the necessary steps to verify your identity.
  • Can prevent someone from opening an account but will not prevent charges to existing accounts.
  • Initial Fraud Alert - protects an individual’s credit accounts from unverified access for at least 90 days.  This alert is used for individuals have not yet been victims of identity theft but would like additional protection.  
  • Extended Fraud Alert – protects an individual’s credit accounts for 7 years.  This alert is specifically for victims of identity theft.
  • Active Military Fraud Alert – protects active military member’s credit accounts during deployment for 1 year.  
  • No fees associated with this service.
  • Obtained by calling nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  The nationwide credit report company must then tell your other credit reporting companies of your request and they will then place a fraud alert on their versions of your credit report.

As with any issue relating to credit and cyber security, being proactive and moving quickly is vital.   Attorneys are investigating the matter and are always here to answer questions.

Relax on Your Summer Vacation and Avoid Identity Theft and Fraud



Koester & Bradley Champaign Consumer Fraud LawyersKoester & Bradley's Tips for Safe Travel
Many things have the potential to ruin a well-planned vacation, but identity theft may be may be at the top of the list. Spending time fighting fraudulent charges, closing credit cards, and disputing errors is certainly not how you planned to spend your time off. Unfortunately, every year there are millions of complaints filed with the  Federal Trade Commission. Your chances of identity theft, however, are reduced if you try these  identity protection strategies while enjoying a relaxing vacation:
  • Don't let that Plastic Weigh You Down. Instead of bringing all of your credit cards with you. Only bring the necessary cards while traveling. Also, don’t bring sensitive documents like your Social Security card or passport unless you have to.  Further, if you do need any extra identifying documents, take pictures with your phone or make photo copies.
  • Use Caution and be Reasonable. It’s not healthy to be suspicious of everyone while traveling, but a healthy dose of caution could save you from a stressful situation.  While the money belt and fanny pack may not be practical,  if you are visiting a crowded destination or one that is known for having pickpockets, be mindful of your environment. Also, avoid leaving personal information, such as credit cards, in your hotel room. Instead, put any important items or information in a or a hotel safe.  After all, most thefts are crimes of opportunity and even slight obstacles may deter thieves. 
  • Don't Log In. Another thing to consider is checking your financial statements while on public Wi-Fi. Data on these connections is less secure.  You are not the only person lurking on free wireless networks at the coffee shop.
  • Use A Credit CardCarrying cash may seem easier and safer, but stolen cash is nearly impossible to get back. Also, should your wallet get stolen, fraudulent charges are easier to dispute on a credit card versus a debit card.
  • Communicate with Credit Card Providers. Credit card providers don’t want your cards to get stolen anymore than you do. If they do, they may end up with a large list of fraudulent charges. Tell your credit card provider if you are traveling. Knowing of your travel plans, they can let you know if there are any suspicious transactions that show up.

Nothing can ruin a good vacation like having your identity stolen. Use these tips to maximize your protection and  contact us if you find that you have experienced something unfortunate so we can sort things out. We would like to thank our summer law clerk staff for the research on this article and remind readers about our scholarship.

Illinois Plaintiffs Lawyer Personal Injury Blog by Koester & Bradley, LLP 

Legal News and safety tips with Illinois Impact from the Accident and Personal Injury Firm Koester & Bradley, LLP


Ryan R Bradley is a personal injury and litigation lawyer based in Champaign County Illinois focused on representing injured clients and businesses navigate the maze of litigation to financial recovery.  

Tom Koester is a personal injury attorney based in Champaign County in Central Illinois focused on representing the injured and victims of Medical Malpractice and Personal Injuries.