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While We’ve Been Watching Tiger King, Cyber Criminals Have Been Targeting Us

cyber criminals

Am I the only one who thought COVID-19 would bring out the best in cyber criminals and thieves—that the pandemic would remind them that life is short and they would see the error of their ways?

Cyber Criminals Don’t Take a Netflix Break

It didn’t happen. Instead of binging on Netflix and Hulu like the rest of us during quarentine, they actually honed their skills to fleece us of more of our money while we were catching up on the Great British Baking Show and The Tiger King.

A few days ago I got an email from a major book retailer that they had a security breech and the first line read like a death notice; “It is with the greatest regret we inform you…”. They went on to ensure me (us) that just my personal information may have been compromised…but my financial data was double-triple-fourple encrypted and very safe. Just possibly my name, email, billing and shipping address and telephone number—the stuff ID thieves need to create a new identity and potentially have a financial impact that would ripple for years—was exposed. 

To make matters worse, only hours earlier, I was trying to make an online purchase but my card was rejected because I had inverted the numbers of my security code. Thank goodness, because I found out the website was sketchy and when I called my bank, the nice lady on the other end was very sympathetic. This is just my opinion but she was probably thinking, “Bless your heart” when she heard my tale of woe.

How We Get Tricked

How did I get duped into giving my card information to a less than honest website? They advertised exactly what I wanted for a lot less than everyone else; they had four celebrity endorsements; and as soon as I clicked onto the website there was blinking red, green and yellow alert! It was a countdown clock and I had just four minutes to get the product for FREE and all I had to pay was shipping! SCORE! I was typing like the wind, which is how I inverted my security code, which is why I didn’t think to investigate the company until after I typed in everything.

The online reviews assured me that I would NOT have gotten what I ordered, and I had willingly given my information to strangers.  I teach financial literacy but I had been duped.  The irony that I start each class with the warning—that everybody wants our money—was not lost on me. I’m hoping that my transparency will help you understand that a breach of your PII (personally identifiable information) is a huge deal. As I heard a financial expert say, “PII is the new  currency and an easy way to rob people without a gun.”

What Cyber Criminals Do With Your Information

Even though the book retailer tried to assure me that someone else having my PII was no big deal, I know it’s a big deal and we can’t afford to be lulled into complacency by a soothing email.

What are the most common ways cyber criminals use your information?

  • To open a credit card or get a loan
  • Change your billing and banking address so they can control your finances until you become aware
  • To get a mobile phone
  • To get a photo ID or DL with bogus information
  • Open a bank account and write bad checks
  • Create a new identity to avoid arrest or court action.

How can you prevent becoming a victim to those cyber criminals who refuse to take a break and binge watch with the rest of us?

Keeping Your Information Secure Online

  • Avoid using websites that don’t begin with https and don’t have a🔒lock
  • Use long un-guessable passwords, and don’t use the same password for every website. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password or substitute numbers for some words or letters.
  • Before you get rid of a computer or a mobile device get rid of all the personal information it stores.
  • If you post too much information about yourself online, a cyber criminal can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, to gain access to personal information.
  • File your tax return early so a thief can’t get to it before you
  • Check your credit report regularly to keep an eye out for information that doesn’t belong.
  • Get savvy about phishing emails. Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.

Keeping Your Information Secure Offline

  • Avoid giving your PII out loud while in public. Someone could be recording it without your knowledge.
  • Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work.
  • Limit the information you carry. Take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need when you leave home, and always leave your Social Security card in a secure place at home.
  • If you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.
  • Shred receipts, unsolicited credit card offers, credit applications, insurance paperwork and doctor statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer. Opt for e-statements whenever possible to cut back on the documents you receive with personal information.

These are just a few ways you can protect yourself. Everybody wants your money but YOU can outsmart them and keep it safe.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt-free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today.

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