Although stories of large-scale data breaches litter news headlines on a daily basis, we hear relatively few stories about individuals who fall victim to cyber crime, even though these attacks happen far more frequently. As the time we spend online increases every year, so do the risks, and for individuals, these include credit card fraud, social networking scams, ransomware, and identify theft, says Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of MyCybercare.
“I believe identify theft is the most dangerous of these, as it has damaging, and long-lasting effects,” he adds. “Moreover, due to the sheer amount of personal information stored and shared on electronic devices, it has become one of the most prevalent threats today.”
He says identity theft can be defined as taking and using an individual’s personal information in order to impersonate them, steal from their bank accounts, set up false insurance policies, open unauthorised credit cards, or apply for unauthorised bank loans. Other reasons for stealing someone’s identity would be to rent a home, take out a bond, apply for a job, or even to catfish people over the Internet.”
According to Campbell-Young, a fair amount of these cases happen because an individual has had a wallet lost or stolen, or another physical item, such as a document or bank card. “However, given the amount of information we share so freely over the Internet, it isn’t hard for an identify thief to gain a pretty good picture of who we are, in order to impersonate us.”
Either way, he says victims of this crime are badly affected, sometimes for years. “Their credit record becomes blemished, and this can take years to readjust and correct. They cannot apply for their own loans or bonds, and often are unable to find a job. It is a long and arduous road to recovering from identity theft, depending on how much fraud occurred, and the number of instances the false identity was used.”
He says the best way for consumers to protect themselves, is to be highly vigilant when using smartphones, tablets, and other devices that store digital personal information. “In addition, don’t carry around too much personal information with you, in either your wallet or purse.”
Also, only carry one means of ID and a single credit or debit card. “Be aware when using your cards, and shield yourself when entering PIN numbers when using pay points or ATMs. Never give out personal information such as passwords and other login credentials over the phone, Internet or email. Use only authenticated online retailers for making purchases.”
He also advises to be conscious of phishing scams, and be wary of clicking on any links or attachments in emails unless you are 100% certain they are legitimate. “Also keep your security software such as anti-malware, firewalls and similar, updated and current. Keep an eye on your credit accounts for any anomalous behaviour or suspect purchases. If you suspect you have been a victim of fraud, contact your credit card provider at once.”
Choose the strongest possible passwords, and don’t use the obvious ‘12345’ or ‘password’, or even information that while easy to remember, is also child’s play for a cyber criminal to figure out, such as the name of your girlfriend, favourite pet, your birthday or your kids’ names. “Change your passwords frequently to ensure maximum security,” he advises.
Campbell-Young adds that despite best efforts, people still do fall victim to identify theft. “This is where having personal cyber insurance comes in. These policies cover for identity-theft, which typically includes access to credit monitoring and a case manager who can help victims clean up the carnage and get their good names back. Some policies also offer home-security audits as well as legal consultations and identity monitoring for victims of this scourge.”