9 Investigates: Local businesses hackers are targeting

By: Tina Terry

Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Every year, consumers trust companies with their personal information, but not all of them are successful when it comes to protecting it. A Channel 9 investigation revealed nearly 1 million victims of data breaches last year in the Carolinas alone.


Story highlights:

  • Nearly one million Carolinians victims of data breaches each year.
  • N.C. attorney general joining forces with other states to investigate large breaches.
  • Local business owners could lose everthing after being hacked.

Eyewitness News reporter Tina Terry spoke with experts who said the numbers may even be higher than that and that small businesses may be the easiest targets.

Anu Mehra said she's worked hard to build her food delivery business, Foodie-Call. But last year she was among hundreds of business owners impacted by data breaches.

“There's nothing we could have done differently,” Mehra said.

RESOURCES: South Carolina 2014 data breaches

Mehra told the attorney general that her online ordering software provider reported a data breach that could allow credit card information entered between October 2013 and January 2014 to be seen by an unauthorized user.

“It was pretty shocking,” she said.

Mehra spent countless hours notifying thousands of customers about the breach. Once that controversy was over, hackers struck again – this time using stolen credit cards to place food orders on her website.

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She said when credit card companies learned of the scam, she was left holding the bill.

"In the past couple of months, we've had something like $10,000 worth of fraudulent transactions. It's unbelievable," she said.

Last year, a total of 504 companies -- large and small -- reported data breaches to North Carolina's attorney general. About a third of them were victimized by hackers.

RESOURCES: North Carolina 2014 data breaches

Ben Yarbrough owns Calyptix, a company that helps protect small businesses from hackers.

"Hackers prefer to pursue what's easy. Small businesses are easy," he told Channel 9.

Yarbrough said those businesses have to educate themselves about security.

“Assume you're not secure. If you take that position then you'll understand that you need to have a multilevel approach for security,” he said.


Preventing breaches and encouraging businesses to protect data

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is joining forces with other states to investigate large breaches.

“We want to hold them accountable if they have not lived up to their promises, or what they're supposed to do,” Holder said.

He's encouraging small businesses to do all they can to protect data.

“Take steps to build firewalls to make sure they protect customer information, that there is encryption," said Holder.

Mehra said if hackers strike her again, she could go out of business.

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"I'm a local business owner. I don’t have partners. I don’t have a franchise. There's no deep pockets for me to go to and have some help with this," she said.

She's working with police to find the people who hit the first two times, and her software provider has made significant security changes. Whatever it takes, she said, to save her business.

Yarbrough said he believes there are far more of these breaches than reported. He said that's because companies usually don't know they've been breached. He also said once they do find out, it's hard to know what, if any, information has been compromised.

He said consumers can protect themselves by only entering personal information into secure websites with an https: and encouraged asking businesses what they do to protect personal information.

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