Newest Cybercrimes Targeting Your Money

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Once the domain of individual hackers, cybercrime today also involves large criminal organizations that use the Internet to find and target victims.

Cyberattacks can take down critical systems and disrupt operations in government, banks, hospitals and schools. They can also target home computers in order to steal identity data that will be used for theft or fraud.

Cybercrime experts report that two forms of electronic fraud have surged in the past several months; both involve identity theft. The first, application fraud, occurs when an account is opened in your name using stolen or fake documents. Once the account has been opened, it can be used to purchase items or withdraw cash in your name. Besides bank and credit card accounts, mobile phone accounts are frequently set up using application fraud.

The second type of electronic fraud on the rise is account takeover fraud, where stolen personal information is used to gain access to one of your accounts. Once the account is accessed, the cybercriminal is able to take it over, make unauthorized transactions and possibly lock you out entirely. Some criminals have even scammed Uncle Sam by using stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns and have tax refunds directly deposited in their own bank accounts.
A criminal can steal your identity by knowing your name and one or more key pieces of data, such as a Social Security number, bank account number and birth date. Identification numbers from your passport or driver’s license are also valued by identity thieves. Reports of identity theft to law enforcement nearly doubled between 2010 and 2015, says the FBI, and many more cases have gone undetected or unreported.

Although any type of burglary or break-in leaves you vulnerable to loss of personal data, today’s criminals are just as likely to do their dirty work in the digital world. Using email to trick a victim into revealing personal information, also known as spear phishing, is one of the most widespread methods used by identity thieves. A phishing email will appear to be from a reputable company that you may do business with on a regular basis. Its message will say that your account needs to be verified because it has been compromised or because you are subject to a refund. The reason is usually compelling enough to make you want to click on a link that leads to a fake website set up by the criminals, at which point you will be asked for personal information.

Not all of the newest cybercrimes involved identify theft. Ransomware is a form of malicious software that takes over a computer and locks out the owner until a cash ransom is paid. Earlier this year, a ransomware program nicknamed WannaCry took over tens of thousands of Windows computers worldwide, requiring several hundred dollars in Bitcoin payment from each owner to release the computer. Luckily, an antidote to WannaCry was found before too many victims paid the ransom. The victims of the next widespread ransomware attack may not be so lucky.

As with many other crimes, the best way to avoid cybercrime is through prevention and protection. Ransomware works by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in a computer’s operating system, so make sure to enable automatic updates so that your computer will always have the latest security patches. To avoid phishing and other types of email attacks, never click on a link or open an attachment if you are suspicious about the sender of an email message. If you wonder whether an email from your bank or credit card company is legitimate, use the phone number on your account statement to call the institution and verify the email.

Banks and credit card companies are very aware of cyberthreats to user accounts and most now provide monitoring systems and alerts that notify you about suspicious activity. This can protect you from account takeover. An unexpected change in your credit score is one way to detect that someone has opened a fraudulent account in your name, so many banks also provide your current credit score. To ensure that accounts haven’t been opened without your knowledge, you can also request a copy of your full annual credit report. Federal law currently allows you to access one free credit report each year from Experian, Transunion and Equifax, the three main credit reporting companies. Be aware that a fee may be charged for a credit score or further credit monitoring, so read the fine print carefully.

It’s more important than ever to do everything you can to protect your identity. While online, use secure passwords to protect your computer and phone and store your passwords in a secure location. In the real world, keep personal documents in a safe place and shred them before disposal. In the age of cybercrime, it pays to protect your identity as if it’s your most important possession. ■

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