Equifax, Hacking, and Thievery September 15 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Word came out last week that Equifax, one of the “big three” credit bureaus had been hacked, with a theft of the electronic records of 143 million people. That’s over half of the adults in the U.S. The theft included social security numbers, credit card numbers, and other personal information.

There have been many high-profile bank robberies in the past:

  • The Great Brink’s Robbery of 1950 ($2.8 million or $27.6 million today – the largest value robbery in the U.S. up to that time)
  • The United California Bank robbery of 1972 ($30 million, or $172 million in today’s dollars – the current U.S. robbery record in terms of total value)
  • The Dunbar Armored Robbery of 1997 ($18.9 million in cash or $28.2 million today – the U.S. cash robbery record)

But the Equifax theft has the potential to result in an avalanche of stealing through fraud and identify theft. Technology has enabled theft to occur on a scale never seen before. 

Society has become accustomed to hearing about hacks, to the extent that we often don’t pay that much attention to them anymore, at least not until they affect us personally.  And preventing theft is very costly, with security guards patrolling most establishments, millions of cameras, and billions spent on cyber security.  Just think of what it would be like if people did not steal: no locks on houses or cars, no security guards, substantially lower insurance costs.  But preventing theft is now part of everyday life, and it is a sad commentary on the human condition that there are millions of people who have jobs that attempt to limit the impact of this one sinful act.  Theft is viewed by many as OK “if I can get away with it.”

We have personally been the victims of credit card fraud several times in the last 10-15 years. Thankfully, the credit card company has usually been quick to detect this. We’re not sure how they do it, but they’re usually very good. Perhaps the last one was easiest – an attempt to use our card for a $2000 charge at a tattoo parlor just a few weeks ago.  This happened shortly after the Equifax hack, so who knows if this was related.  Getting new sets of cards is inconvenient, but one could barely function in today’s society without a credit card.  Full-fledged identify theft is more difficult to deal with, and authorities recommend frequent monitoring of all things financial in today’s hack-prone environment.

Stealing has been with us from time immemorial. Dealing with the propensity to steal was so important that he Lord actually gave Moses two of the Ten Commandments to highlight the sinfulness of taking things from others. We immediately think of the eighth commandment “You shall not steal.” But the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” is very much related to it. In fact, stealing begins with coveting because someone “wants it” for themselves, which leads to the actual act of stealing, in all its various forms. It is the antithesis of sharing with others.  That’s why it is especially heartbreaking and detestable when people and businesses have their things looted, while they are particularly vulnerable (ex. after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma).  Sadly, the very people who need the most help are taken advantage of by those whose primary goal in life is to look out for themselves.

Jesus actually used this contrast in John 10:10 to make a point: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Thieves know that stealing is wrong.  This is obvious because they almost always sneak around to do it, and escape as fast as they can.  If only thieves would see that they are accountable to the God of the universe, repent, trust Christ, and become givers rather than takers.  We see this life transformation in Zaccheus, a chief tax collector (Luke 19:2).  His belief in Jesus was manifested by his eagerness to make restitution to those he had defrauded:

“Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

While the people grumbled that Jesus “has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” Jesus’ assessment was that “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek, and to save that which was lost.” The starting point for Zaccheus was to realize that he was lost.

Clearly, the only real solution to stealing is a life transformation through faith in Christ, and we would pray that the hackers, burglars, thieves, and committers of fraud come to faith just like Zaccheus did.  He was a great example in Ephesians 4:28 of putting off the old self and putting on the new, righteous behavior instead -  “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

It is also interesting that the Bible makes note that the men crucified on each side of Jesus were thieves (Matthew 27:44). And it is the thief who trusted Christ just before his death that provides the hope that it is never too late to trust in Christ. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace – not even the worst of thieves and hackers.

The reality is, however, that thieves will always be with us.  While we should be always ready to share with others, it would not be loving toward thieves to give them unhindered access to property that does not belong to them. The concept of security existed even in Jesus’ day, an example of which was when Jesus used a thief to explain the importance of being watchful for the coming of Christ:

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.” (Luke 12:39)

But even with a loss, we can by God’s grace still have peace and joy, knowing Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:19-21:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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Steve Smith