If your reading this, you may have fallen victim to cyber pirates; unknown charges to your credit card, attempted credit cards opened in your name, account login information stolen and money siphoned from your bank. The list goes on.
This week I watched the newest episode of Trafficked by Mariana Van Zeller on Cyber Criminals. It hit home in so many ways. It is a problem of unprecedented scale! This episode brought to light the sheer volume of this modern day issue and just how many criminal organizations have turned to cyber crime to make a profit and evade law enforcement. I have personally been a victim of many different types of cyber crimes. From unknown credit card charges, the never ending phishing attempts to steal my banking and login information to attempted fraudulent orders placed on my webstore.
I've become a little bit of a niche expert in identifying cyber attacks. While this is a very complex topic, Here are my basic and easiest to implement recommendations on how to protect yourself as a consumer and citizen in the digital age:
1. Monitor your credit report frequently, use a paid service like myFico. This service will actively monitor your credit report and alert you of any and all changes in real time. For example, account balance increases and decreases, a list of all accounts open in your name and any new accounts being opened in your name. This will help prevent basic identity theft. If you want to go one step further, you can set up a credit freeze. While you won't be able to open any new accounts or take out any new loans, a criminal trying to impersonate you won't be able to either. You can call one of the 3 major credit bureaus to enable a freeze.
2. Phishing e-mails are a constant, for me and for everyone I know. Scammers are trying to get your login information with e-mails, text-messages & even phone calls. This is an ongoing frustration. E-mails especially, ALWAYS inspect the senders e-mail address. I have now encountered multiple very, very convincing e-mails with senders addresses that I had to do a double take on. If even the sliver of a doubt, DO NOT CLICK ON ANYTHING from the e-mail. Open an independent browser, type in the web address of the account in question and find out from your independent login if there was an actual notification or alert. Even make a phone call to the institution in question if you are in doubt. Scammers targeting you are buying your data on the dark web and they might even have sensitive and intimate personal information about you that can make these phishing e-mails look extremely realistic and be personally tailored FOR YOU! Scammers have return receipt codes embedded in their e-mails, if you click on anything they will know you engaged with it more than just opening it and they will focus more attention on you. Don't give them a reason to harass you further.
3. This might be one of the MOST critical. ENABLE 2-FACTOR!!!!! All banking institutions have this feature for online banking and almost all social media websites have this feature now. Its quick and easy to setup. Here is how it works: You proceed to login as usual, type in your username and password, but before it lets you access your account, it will prompt you for a 4-8 digit numerical code. This code is sent via text message to your phone (or e-mail address) to verify that you are the actual person attempting to login. This will ward off the vast majority scammers. Many adults 50 and older are ignorant of this feature and fall victim to phishing scams every single day. If you are a millennial or younger, you can do a great public service by helping your older family and friends set this up. Don't forget to set this up for your telecommunications/utility provider and see if they offer further layers of protection so scammers can't access or transfer your phone number without your knowledge.
4. Do yourself a favor and pay for VPN (virtual private network). While this may slow your browsing experience down a little bit, it will hide your location and IP address from snoopers on the internet. Meaning your identity on the internet is encrypted. It gives you anonymity. Some websites won't work with a VPN (some streaming services like Hulu) but most will. It is your first layer of defense. Always use the VPN when logging into your bank or credit card providers websites. VPNs should also be used on your phone.
5. Pay for virus protection software on your computer. Some software is better than others, but many nowadays can even quarantine malware hiding in phishing e-mails that you may unknowingly click on in your e-mail browser. I won't make any specific endorsements but I do recommend it.
6. Change your wifi factory password. While this is more necessary if you live in an urban area, it is still recommended.
Of course cyber security goes much, much deeper, but if you monitor your credit profile (digital identity) and setup 2-factor on all of your sensitive and social accounts that allow it, you are in great shape. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
The photo is a link to the National Geographic episode of "Cyber Pirates" by Mariana Van Zeller