In a tech-driven world, identity theft is something that should be top of mind when using any sort of device. Identity theft is a crime that can be difficult to recover from. It could take months to clean up the mess that a scammer makes by fraudulently using your personal information. This makes it even more important to prevent identity theft in the first place.
Here are some tips to protect yourself online:
1. Learn to look for signs of a scam.
Be vigilant while using the web. Whether you are on a cell phone, tablet, home computer or work computer, make it a habit to look out for signs of a scam. If you feel like you might not be able to spot the red flags that could signify a scam, take some time to learn what to watch for. Warning signs in emails, text messages, or social media can include things such as misspellings and grammatical issues, links that have a suspicious URL when you hover over them, and demands for money or urgency. Remember that your financial institution, and most other legitimate companies, will not contact you via electronic means to request sensitive personal information or payment.
2. Monitor and review your accounts and credit report.
One of the first signs of identity theft can be fraudulent charges on your credit cards or bank accounts, and suspicious activity in your credit reports. If your credit report includes accounts, names, addresses, employers, or inquiries you don’t recognize, it could be a sign that your identity has been compromised. Be sure to report any suspected identity theft at IdentityTheft.gov. In addition to reviewing your credit reports on a regular basis, you should also get in the habit of reviewing your credit card and banking transactions regularly to verify that all of the charges were made by you. This can be done either through online or mobile banking or by carefully reviewing your monthly account statements. Keeping track of your credit score, and reviewing any significant changes to it, can also help alert you to your identity being stolen. There are many budgeting apps out there, such as Mint, which monitor your credit score and can notify you of changes. If you see a big jump and nothing major has changed with your finances, you should take a closer look.
3. Protect Your Devices
Safeguarding your devices with basic security measures is one of the easiest ways to prevent viruses, spyware and hacking – all of which can lead to identity theft. Some ways you can protect your devices include installing antivirus software, using a screen lock, having strong passwords across all accounts, not allowing your web browser to save passwords, staying off public Wi-Fi, and keeping your operating system and apps up-to-date. Although you may feel like your phone or laptop is never out of your sight, it doesn’t take long for a criminal to get sensitive information from a lost or stolen device if the right safeguards aren’t in place.
4. Don’t enter financial information on a website you are not familiar with.
You likely see many advertisements every day across social media, email, and the internet. As easy as it can be to buy something online, it is important to ensure you are ordering from a verified, reputable website before entering any personal or financial information. Unfortunately, there are many scam websites out there that don’t actually sell anything. If you see an ad for something you are interested in, it is recommended to access the website through its verified domain, instead of clicking on the ad. If you are not familiar with the company, a quick Google search will often reveal if people have been scammed by it before, or whether it has genuine reviews from past customers.
Types of Hacking to Be Aware of
Unfortunately, there are many types of scams that people fall victim to. Below are common ones to be aware of that could occur across any device, and could ultimately lead to identity theft:
• Phishing. Phishing is a scam where fraudsters attempt to obtain sensitive information such as bank account and credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, or Social Security numbers. Phishing is commonly carried out via fake links in emails or imitations of legitimate websites that aim to lure unsuspecting victims to enter their information.
• Vishing. Also known as "voice phishing", vishing is a type of scam where the attacker makes phone calls or leaves voicemails pretending to be from a reputable company, in an effort to get the victim to reveal sensitive personal and financial information.
• Pharming. Pharming takes place when you type in a valid website address and you are unknowingly redirected to a phony website posing as the legitimate one. When unsuspecting victims enter their sensitive personal or financial information on these fake websites, the information is sent to fraudsters. This can take place if the legitimate site has had a security breach, allowing hackers to access the website’s server and redirect users to their own site. It can also happen if your computer has been hacked or inflected with a virus.
• Spyware. Loaded onto your computer unbeknownst to you, spyware is a type of malicious software that enables a person or organization to obtain information about your computer activities by transmitting data from your hard drive. It is most often installed when you download free software from the internet, not realizing that it’s unsafe.
• Pop-Ups. A form of online advertising where the ad "pops up" on a computer screen, pop-ups are intended to increase ad views or capture email addresses for marketing purposes. However, some pop-ups are designed with malicious intent. An example of a malicious pop-up is one that claims there is a virus on your computer and prompts you to click or call for more information. These can be a phishing scam aimed at obtaining your personal or financial information.
The more we depend on our devices, the more sensitive information we put at risk. Being able to make purchases, submit paperwork, send messages, and check our finances with the click of a button is certainly a great convenience – but it requires vigilance. Anytime you do something online that involves entering or accessing sensitive information, think twice about the situation. Do you trust the website? The sender? Your internet connection? Is there a chance someone can see your screen? Were you expecting to receive the call or message? Taking some time to analyze and question the situation could save you from accidentally giving your information to scammers and having your identity stolen.
For more cybersecurity tips, visit the Security section of the BankFive blog.