Millions of Americans are impacted by online scams each year. It’s important to learn about the risks, and ways to protect your sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands. Although cybercrime is growing and the techniques of getting information have become more advanced, the two primary methods used by criminals today are phishing and social engineering, or a combination of both.
The Identity Theft Resource Center tracks annual numbers of records that are exposed. The crime happens when a cybercriminal gets confidential information on a person, including their ID numbers, account login information, Social Security numbers, or banking numbers and use that information to commit fraud. Cybercriminals can use the information to open brokerage accounts, bank accounts, make charges on credit cards, get loans, and a number of other forms of financial fraud. As identity theft becomes more prevalent, cybercriminals become more and more slick.
Social Engineering and Phishing
Social engineering is the process of interacting with people and tricking them into breaking routine security procedures. In a nutshell, the criminal tries to gain access to computers and mobile devices, often by inviting the person to click on a link that goes to a fraudulent website where they can collect information such as user credentials or other personal information.
The same results can be acquired using a phishing technique. The cybercriminal sends someone an email, trying to lure them to a fake website. Once the person goes to the fake website, the criminals can get access to usernames and passwords, credit card information, and other sensitive information. The criminals often make the emails look legitimate and mimic a specific company the person may have done business with in the past. By not looking closely, anyone can be fooled into thinking it’s the company they know.
In other scams, the criminals can inject code that is malicious onto the computer with email attachments, by infecting search engine results, and through documents or videos on legitimate websites. They often target social networking sites with this type of coding, and apps can be dangerous as well. Once someone downloads an app, hackers can get valuable information off of the phone, such as personal information. They can also change settings on the device, and in some cases, they can control the device from a remote location.
Protect Your Information
In today’s world, where most people rely heavily on the internet and smart phones, protecting your data can seem impossible. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has some tips to help reduce the risk of loss by using a few preventative measures:
- Never give anyone any personal information or credit card numbers over the phone or internet unless you are the one who started the communication.
- Carefully review your bank account each month and promptly notify the bank if something doesn’t look right.
- Routinely monitor any online accounts you have and look for suspicious activity. Report any unauthorized transactions to your credit card companies, banks, and the police as soon as you notice them.
- Review your credit report yearly. Notify the credit bureau if you see questionable entries and don’t let up until they have been explained to you or they have been removed.
- If someone has stolen your identity, have the credit bureau add a statement to your credit report explaining what has happened.
- If you know anyone who has received mail from banks or credit card companies in someone else’s name, contact local or federal law enforcement.
Other things to be suspect of include emails or text messages wanting you to update your personal information, verify your identity, or activate an account. Caution should also be used when opening email attachments and any downloadable files. It’s also crucial to stay up to date with virus protection and security software.