David Bellemere

Retail security breaches, ransomware, social media impersonators — cybercrime is evident in many areas of the fashion industry.

In its annual Mobile Security Index report, Verizon cited ransomware as the leading cybersecurity threat. While 85 percent of companies said they need to take mobile security seriously, half of the companies polled acknowledged that saving money and “cutting corners” trumped investments to protect mobile data and boost security. Researchers at Verizon said the total number of cyber compromises rose to 33 percent in 2018 from 27 percent in the prior year. For retailers specifically, 31 percent of retail organizations “suffered a mobile device compromise last year.” And 54 percent of the incidents were considered major while 27 percent “had lasting repercussions,” Verizon noted in the report.

As of last week, 22 municipal governments in Texas had been stricken with ransomware — malicious software that blocks access to a computer system or data, usually by encrypting it, until the victim pays a fee to the attacker. Meanwhile, two school systems on Long Island in New York also were victims of ransomware attacks this week. Meanwhile, retailers ranging from Target Inc. to Home Depot have seen their systems hacked in recent years, while last month Capital One bank revealed that a hacker had accessed data on 100 million credit card applicants.

But the problem can strike any industry or individuals, as some fashion executives know all too well.

Having been the victim of ransomware several years ago, the Fashion Group International knows firsthand how incapacitating such circumstances can be. Newly appointed president and chief executive officer Maryanne Grisz said, “Cybercrime is a serious issue and an ongoing priority for businesses. Our FGI events schedule is set for this year, but we are considering the topic for a discussion in 2020 as data and systems protection is such an integral part of all fashion businesses.”

She added, “My advice to fashion companies is to insure protection of your assets, be proactive and do your due diligence. Limit access to sensitive information, change passwords frequently, utilize security software, have onsite backup for the entire system plus an offsite contingency backup and schedule. At the minimum, annual independent IT audits are necessary to guarantee that all critical security issues are not missed. This is an ongoing issue, which must be continually monitored as technology evolves and requires the participation from the entire organization.”

The Garment District Alliance is said to have been in contact with New York City Police Department officials about the problem of cybercrime. There are plans to distribute information about the issue to area business owners in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the situation.

For the past few years, agencies such as Model Management Group have been dealing with people misrepresenting themselves as employees to solicit models. The MMG homepage and all of its social media platforms have a warning so that prospective models know that people have been trying to solicit talent by misrepresenting themselves as MMG employees via “LinkedIn, WhatsApp, etc.” Elite also has a warning with a link outlining six safeguards as well as a link to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint center to report an online scam. IMG also has a “recruitment warning,” although that is not bannered on its homepage.

Photographer David Bellemere is in the midst of a court battle in Lyon, France, with a European model, Yann Labrosse, who is alleged to have impersonated him online to solicit models. Bellemere said, “Hiding behind a screen, anyone can fool you, impersonate you. You are not protected. Be aware. For five years now, I have had people impersonating me, harassing women using my work, my name. It has been a long hunt to find out who was behind this. It caused me worries, time and has affected my reputation a lot.”

Bellemere advised models, “For any request, give the contact your agent’s information and don’t get into any conversation with the said professional, who is contacting you. For girls who don’t have an agent, I think the Model Alliance should offer them help for those cases. If you don’t have an agent, check e-mail addresses or phone numbers really well. Hackers will never give you their phone number. “

The photographer thinks that social media should take the problem more seriously and take responsibility. ”The only thing that I am sure that should be done is a campaign for prevention by social media. When someone is contacting people for the first time by message, an automatic message should be delivered when the first message is sent.”

Fashion 4 Development founder Evie Evangelou said she has been advising people to be careful about cybercrime, which is increasingly prevalent. Her advice boils down to, “Put highly sensitive information on closed networks and have employees trained to recognize hacker manipulation.” She said, “I think social media has contributed to security issues and that’s something that is difficult to control. Be careful with what you post.”

The New School’s dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design, Burak Cakmak, also spoke of the boundless problem. He said, “Clearly in every sector, even in our personal daily finances, we are all getting scam e-mails. It’s basically a matter of making sure as an individual that first and foremost we are clear on what we open, what we respond to and that we really do the due diligence. This is not relevant to one industry per se. Every aspect of our life is now very connected and potentially under threat by cybercrime. This is a space that obviously requires more engagement.”

In regards to the problem of model agent impersonators soliciting models online, Cakmak said models’ families need to be more engaged and aware of such instances, especially if the models are underage. Support needs to be in place — whether that is through a parent or some kind of mentor — for anyone who wants to be part of the professional fashion system, he added.