They say that crime doesn’t pay, but don’t tell that to the victims of cybercrime or the swelling population of fraudsters out there—in most cases seasoned criminals.
While the types of computer crime are legion, they generally share the same goal: to separate you from your money by exploiting weaknesses in digital security.
Hundreds of Threats Per Minute
Cybercrime is exploding. In 2009, victims reported $560 million in losses; in 2019, that figure was up more than sixfold, to $3.5 billion.1 And McAfee, a cybersecurity company, observed 375 threats per minute from malware alone in first-quarter 2020.2
It’s Easy for the Criminals…
Although cybercriminals tend to be smart and wily—often smoothtalking con artists—they may not even have to work very hard. For example, they may pick a wealthy ZIP Code (like so many in New York and New England) and find out on the Internet that a resident just bought an important painting from a local gallery for more than $100,000. With a few keystrokes, the fraudster can find out the name, address, and phone number of the buyer.
He can then pose on the phone or on-line as a manager of the gallery and offer the victim a “special price” on another art treasure, as a valued customer: “Just wire us the money.” It happens all the time.
…But You Can Make It Harder for Them
So what can you do to protect yourself? Here’s a brief list:
- Keep your computer, phone, and security software up-to-date.
- Keep back-up files, ideally on more than one device. This can go a long way toward foiling threats like ransomware, in which a criminal achieves access to a system—typically in a small company—encrypts the files, and demands money to release them.
- Make sure there’s a good anti-virus/cybersecurity program in every device you own.
- Require multi-factor authentication to access your files—which adds a hurdle or two beyond the usual username and password.
- Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), tying your system to a private network, away from prying criminal eyes. Remember, public WiFi is not often secure.
- Use long, difficult-to-guess passwords with multiple characters and symbols, and don’t duplicate them from site to site. You may also wish to use a password manager, which will hide all your documents behind one master password, usually generated randomly.
- Check your credit scores frequently, and freeze your credit if you suspect foul play.
- The obvious:
- Never click on a link in an e-mail or text unless you’re sure the sender is legitimate.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know who requests it by e-mail, text, or phone.
- If you have any doubt that someone on a phone, e-mail, or text is who they say they are, call or write to the person or company directly.
- Limit the amount of information you put out on social media: They’re a smorgasbord for fraudsters.
- If you are victimized—and no suite of protective strategies is perfect—inform your local police, send in a report to the FBI via www.ic3.gov, and find out if any other agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, may be of help.