Identity theft and computer hacking have gone hand in hand for years, but online scams continue to make news as hackers evolve and find new ways to access personal information. According to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research, although the number of people who reported being victimized by fraud in 2010 dropped by 28%, the out-of-pocket expenses for people who did fall prey to these crimes rose significantly – from $387 per incident in 2009 to $631 in 2010. Data breaches that expose personal information have dropped as well, but criminals still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Here we take a look at few areas where you could be vulnerable.
According to the Javelin report, those who have used social networking for five or more years are twice as likely to suffer identity fraud as those who are new to these sites. However, what many people don’t consider is how thieves might use social networking to scam them. For example, in a common Facebook scam, hackers will track a user’s activity and, when the person brags about going on vacation, send emails to their contacts suggesting he or she has been robbed in a foreign country and needs a money transfer.
Until around 2010, smartphones seemed all but immune to the viruses and malware that plague home computers. Unfortunately, iPhones, Blackberrys and Android devices all have individual vulnerabilities. Games and mobile applications are particularly susceptible to malware. Smartphone users may also be lured to fake banking or shopping websites through phishing scams, thus entering banking and credit card numbers that scammers can then exploit.
According to PandaLabs Security, the second quarter of 2011 was “disastrous” in terms of online attacks aimed at home computer users. These attacks were generally perpetrated through malware, malicious computer code that is designed to disrupt systems, gain unauthorized access and exploit users’ private information including bank accounts. Malware includes a whole list tricks that most computer users are familiar with, including viruses, worms, adware and spyware, among many others. Computer hackers are churning out malware at a staggering rate of 42 new malware strains every minute, infecting up to 40% of computers in the U.S.
What to Do
With so many clever criminals vying for your personal data, many people are overwhelmed in terms of what they can do to protect themselves. Although there’s always some risk, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission provides a few key tips for preventing online identity theft. These include avoiding using obvious online passwords as well as installing firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software on home and business computers and ensuring that it is updated regularly. Computer users should also avoid giving out personal information online, particularly when using public wireless networks. The bottom line is that while many organizations are working hard to keep computer users’ private information safe, many hackers are able to stay ahead of the curve. Therefore, it is imperative that individuals take their own precautions to protect themselves from online fraud.