Don’t you love the internet and social media?  Chances are, whether you love it or hate it, you’re using it. According to Statista.com, 81% of Americans have at least one online profile and according to Nielsen.com, Americans spend an average of 35 minutes per day on Facebook specifically, returning to the site approximately 8 times in a 24 hour period.

Do you have any idea how much content we share with those usage figures? A LOT!!

Every 60 seconds on Facebook, there are:

·       317,000 status updates

·       400 new users

·       147,000 photos uploaded

·       54,000 shared links

Somehow, the term “OVERSHARE” comes to mind and I think most of us are probably pretty guilty of it. With it being so easy and seemingly safe to share information about ourselves to our own network, I think it’s often overlooked how vulnerable we make ourselves. Simply put, oversharing can make us major targets to cyber criminals.

When it’s SO easy to gather info about you, why wouldn’t they?
 
Data like phone numbers, names of relatives, your pet’s name, credit card info and more can be collected and put together to:

  • Attack your accounts
  • Compromise your accounts
  • Empty your credit card
  • Send spam and malware from your computer or email address.

According to the Federal Trade Commission‘s annual report on 2015, identity theft still tops the consumer complaints:

“Identity theft complaints were the second most reported, increasing more than 47 percent from 2014 on the back of a massive jump in complaints about tax identity theft from consumers. Identity theft complaints had been the top category for the previous 15 years. Imposter scams – in which scammers impersonate someone else to commit fraud – remained the third-most common complaint in 2015.”

We make it so darn easy for an impostor to step in, steal our data and then use it to make financial decisions on our behalf and to their benefit by using our credit card details, opening bank accounts in our name, taking out loans… on and on… completely terrorizing us.

In the U.S., the average annual number of identity fraud victims is around 12 million, with a total financial loss of $26,350,000,000 (more statistics here).

Besides the financial loss, there may be additional consequences if that person is held responsible for criminal actions.

What’s scarier is that 68% of the victims don’t even know how the thief obtained their information in the first place and 92% know nothing about the individual or group that stole from them (more statistics in the infographic published by Identity Force).

How To Prevent Identity Theft From Online Crooks

As Bruce Schneier said in Mitigating Identity Theft:

“Identity theft is the new crime of the information age. A criminal collects enough personal data on someone to impersonate a victim to banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions. Then he racks up debt in the person’s name, collects the cash, and disappears. The victim is left holding the bag. While some of the losses are absorbed by financial institutions — credit card companies in particular — the credit-rating damage is borne by the victim. It can take years for the victim to clear his name.”

Once identity theft occurs, it is extremely difficult to recover the information that cybercriminals have stolen. Many times, you aren’t even aware of how or when it happened.

That’s why it’s always better to take proactive security measures that will prevent crooks from stealing your personal details and information. It’s easier to play it safe instead of only react once the damage is done and it’s too late to keep it under control.

7 Tips To Protect Yourself From Online Threats

1.             BE PASSWORD SAVVY

It’s simple. Make sure that your passwords are strong and unique.

Don’t use your birth date, phone number, social security number, family members name or your pet’s name – these can be easily guessed by a cyber crook usually just by looking over your social profiles.

It’s also important that you don’t reuse passwords between your accounts or change them too often. A good password should last a year. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, frequent updates to passwords often result in “password1”, “password2” patterns and these are easy to uncover.

2.             DON’T POST PERSONAL INFORMATION ONLINE

Think twice before publishing information about yourself. Everything that we post online will remain there and be available for everyone who wants to see it, when they want to see it.

…regardless our privacy settings.

As much as we’d like to think that we have control over our privacy, the truth is we can never be sure who’s watching us. Even if we take all the possible security measures, we still depend on other services and systems that might not be as safe as they claim they are.

That’s why it’s important that we pay attention to all the data that we place in comments, private messages, posts, check-ins, photos or anything else that we display online.

And by “online” we mean posts, photos, check-ins or comments on blogs, social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc), but also websites such as AirBnB, TripAdvisor, Booking and so on.

3.       WATCH OUT FOR PHISHING SCAMS

Phishing is one of the oldest cyber threats, but it still causes a lot of damage. Attackers have constantly improved their techniques and fraud methods.

We are at the biggest risk when we:

·        we shop online

·        we check our email account

·        access social media networks

Though phishing uses multiple channels to get our credentials, email spam campaigns remain the main successful method.

The Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report shows that 23% of email recipients open phishing messages, and 11% click on attachments. That means they are three times more effective than legit email campaigns conducted nowadays.

4.       SHOP ONLINE WITH CAUTION

Shopping online is super convenient and many of us do it….regularly. According to Statista.com, 40% of Americans made purchases in 2017 and 20% made purchases on a weekly basis. With more options than ever in such a convenient space, it’s easy to understand our obsession with shopping online.

But how can you know that you buy from a legitimate website?

Follow these steps to make sure you don’t send your financial details to cybercriminals:

·        It’s generally best if you shop from known, trusted websites. This will reduce any odds of unpleasant surprises.

·        Check if the connection is encrypted. You can do this by looking at the address bar: is there an icon of a green lock? Does the address start with “https” instead of “http”? The extra “s” means that the website has SSL certificate (Secure Socket Layer).

·        Also make sure that you activate a second-authentication factor when paying online. You will receive a final identification code on your phone before placing the order.

·        Safest way to go: use a separate card just for online shopping. Transfer money on it only when you want to buy something, otherwise keep it with a low amount on it (for maintenance taxes). This way, in case something bad happens, you still have a safety net.

As a priority to protecting your safety, be sure to educate children and parents of these precautions and the risks.  Also, if you think you’ve fallen victim to a fake shopping site, report and investigate scams here.

5.       SECURE YOUR BROWSER SETTINGS

Your website browser is the number one tool you use to access the internet. To figure out which browser might be the best fit for your personal web usage, check out this article by SensorsTechForum.com.

Because we rely so heavily on our browsers to protect us, it’s important to keep the following checklist in mind:

·        Are you using the latest version for your browser? Make sure you have the last browser version that contains all the available security patches.

·        Use a private browsing session if you connect from a public computer. You don’t want your browsing history details to be recorded locally.

·        To make sure your connection is safe, you can encrypt it using VPN software or Tor browser. It hides your browsing activity by routing your traffic through the Tor network of computers.

6.       PROTECT OUR COMPUTER

Identity thieves use multiple tools to get to your personal data. I’m not talking about classical viruses here, but I’m instead referencing advanced malware and spyware tools, such as keyloggers, exploit kits and remote administration tools. Crooks are able to extract sensitive information with these tools without your knowledge.

Advanced malware is designed to evade normal antivirus detection and can go undetected for a long time before you become aware.

Check out this comparison report on the various antivirus options of 2018 to help choose what is best for your personal setup.

7.       KEEP YOUR SYSTEM UP TO DATE

Apply security updates early and often. Security patches exist because someone has discovered a flaw in your operating system, application, webform or configuration. Security patches are a must for open source and well known applications.

Microsoft has the largest share of the OS market. Finding a flaw in Windows means a hacker could have access to tens of millions of networks and computers. Big finds means big money.

The same is true of Open Source systems like WordPress and Joomla. They are not only in wide use, but hackers can access the source code. With the source code available they can look for and test new exploits.

Conclusion

With so many crooks out there hoping to find slips in our overall protection and swipe your identity, it’s really important to stay in front of your online activity and keep yourself safe.  From oversharing on social media to being complacent with your overall protection, you can easily fall victim. Living with a bit of paranoia embedded into your brain will not hurt you. 

While we should always hope for the best, we should prepare for the worst. Imagine all possible situations and make sure you’ve countered them with smart practices.