A man registers online for a fantasy football league, unaware of a shock ahead.
The site requires him to create a user ID and password, so he uses the one he always uses: his email address for his user ID and his birthdate followed by his initials (lower-case) for his password. After registering, he logs in, pays the registration fee with a credit card, and starts playing.
Weeks later, his credit card statement arrives and he gets a big shock. It shows multiple charges that he didn’t make. A computer hacker easily figured out his password for the football site, used it to steal his credit card information and from there it was a simple matter to run up a series of fraudulent charges. None of them were large enough to attract attention from the card issuer, and the merchants were all online, so the locations didn’t arouse suspicion.
This isn’t a rare experience. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) , there were more than two data breaches a day , exposing more than 150 million records. Cyber criminals stole more than $16 billion from 12.7 million U.S. consumers in 2014. In 2015 more than one-third of cyber crime involved computer hacking.
These statistics show that data thefts are easy and getting easier. Everyone who goes online should assume that the criminals are gunning for them. However, individuals can take the following 10 steps to reduce their chances of becoming victims:
1. Set stern privacy settings on all laptops, desktops, phones and tablets. Use complicated passwords. Keep in mind, hackers can figure out such details as your middle name. They may not be able to figure out your favorite dessert with punctuation characters sprinkled in it. Change your password every few months.
2. Do not give out your password over the phone to anyone unless you placed the call yourself and are certain you know who you’re talking to.
3. Ignore unsolicited requests for your information from emails or websites.
4. Don’t download anything from a website you don’t know and trust.
5. Weigh the risks of sharing personal information on social media. Generally, it’s better to err on the side of sharing too little.
6. Don’t overlook the vulnerability of exciting new technologies in cars and home appliances. Any computerized device can be hacked, so you should consider whether the convenience these technologies offer outweighs the risks.
7. Investigate the fraud protections your banks and credit card companies offer. Keep the phone numbers for reporting fraudulent activity handy.
8. Find out if your state lets consumers place security freezes on their credit information at no cost. Even if there’s a cost it’s generally quite low. This prevents people from opening credit accounts in your name.
9. Learn the insurance options available. Some insurers bundle identity fraud coverage with homeowners and auto policies. Talk to an agent about what the insurance does and doesn’t cover.
10. Check your credit reports. The three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — provide one free credit report each year to consumers. Review them for unfamiliar activity.
The best piece of advice might be, don’t assume you’re safe on the Internet. Cyber criminals are constantly looking for ways around security measures. While safety precautions won’t eliminate threats entirely, they can greatly reduce it.
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