Cybercrime is a serious threat that is on the rise. As we share more and more business and personal information online, criminals find new ways to steal and use that data for illegal purposes and financial gain.
As this risk continues to grow in our daily lives, it’s important to understand how cybercrime has become such a major problem, why we’re all so vulnerable to it, and what steps we can take to protect ourselves.
How Cybercrime Became a Threat
Cybercrime includes criminal activity that involves computers, networks, and digital devices. It can threaten and harm national security, businesses, and individuals. In particular, many people find themselves victims of cybercrimes that attack their finances; it is a wide-scale problem that has impacted countless lives. And our reliance on the internet and the World Wide Web continues to make us increasingly vulnerable to cybercrime threats.
If you’re not a technology wonk, you may not realize the internet and the World Wide Web are two different things. The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks. The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents we access using the internet. Regardless, the two terms have become almost interchangeable.
Together the Internet and the World Wide Web have connected hundreds of millions of people worldwide with a wealth of information. Going online has become so popular more Americans say they would have more trouble giving up the internet than giving up television.
There is little doubt online communications have changed the world. On the positive side, the internet allows people to gather and share information, facilitates marketing and sales of goods, supports communication in real-time across great distances, and gives people the ability to do much more.
But on the negative side, the Internet may expose users to bullying, stalking, and privacy violations. In addition, the storage and transfer of electronic data – including personal information, credit card numbers, and other data – led to a cybercrime wave that continues to grow.
According to the most recent statistics available from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 10 percent of all Americans over the age of 16 reported being a victim of cybercrime in the previous 12 month period. Some surveys show the numbers are triple that of reported crimes when accounting for hacks or attempted hacks of email and social media accounts.
The vast majority of incidents involved the theft and fraudulent use of existing account information. Financial losses resulting from personal identity theft totaled almost $25 billion. That’s about $10 billion more than the losses attributed to all other property crimes.
According to the FBI, the most common risks include scams to exploit business email, identity theft to commit theft or fraud. Also included are malicious software, malware, ransomware, spoofing or phishing schemes to trick people into providing sensitive information to scammers, and online predatory behavior. With such widespread criminal behavior happening every day, you need to know how to protect yourself from cybercrime.
How to Protect Yourself From Cybercrime
Ben Franklin once wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That is certainly the case when it comes to protecting your data. Here are steps you can take to secure your personal information online and prevent cybercrime:
Protect Your Accounts
Choose strong passwords that incorporate letters, numbers, and symbols and, just as importantly, do not use the same password for all of your accounts. If you’re prone to forgetting passwords, keep a password list in your safe or invest in security software that will track passwords for various sites and allow you to access them with a single password.
Look for Security
If you make purchases online, be sure you have a secure connection. Look at the website address. If it starts with ‘https’ or shows a green box with a padlock, typically, the connection is secure. It’s also essential to equip your computers and mobile devices with security software.
Set Account Alerts
Many banks, financial institutions, and credit monitoring agencies offer alerts to notify consumers when changes occur with their accounts. These alerts often are email notices. These alerts can give you a heads-up to suspicious account activity much quicker than if you waited to review your statement at the end of the month.
Be cautious when using free WiFi. It’s generally not a good idea to access financial accounts or password-protected sites on shared networks (free WiFi is giving you access to a shared network) because it is possible for hackers to track your actions. Kiplinger’s cited an expert who suggested using your phone’s mobile network hotspot to access the Internet may be a better choice than using free WiFi.
Control Your Data
Facebook may ask you to complete your profile every time you visit, but you really shouldn’t. It’s smart to limit the personal information – birthdays, pet’s and best friend’s names, addresses, and other data – you share on social media websites. This information can be used to answer security questions and gain access to accounts.
Read Your Bills
A lot of people pay their bills electronically and never take time to review the charges. No matter what type of payment option you employ, it’s critical to review every charge. Unexpected charges could be accidental, or they could be evidence your data has been stolen. If you find a mistake, report it right away.
What If You Become a Victim of Cybercrime?
If you’ve become the victim of a cybercrime, it’s important to take action right away.
Every day, consumers receive notifications informing them their data has been breached, or they’ve become the victim of cybercrime identity fraud. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, “While credit card numbers remain the most popular item revealed in a data breach, in reality, other information can be more useful to fraudsters. Personal information such as online banking login, username, and password were compromised in 10 percent of incidents, and 16 percent of incidents included Social Security numbers.”
If you receive a letter informing you of a breach, take steps to protect yourself, such as setting up account alerts, enrolling in an identity protection service, and contacting all of the parties involved to inform them of what happened.
The Bottom Line
In many ways, the internet has changed how we communicate and do business for the better, giving us real-time, rapid access to the information, resources, and connections we need to run our lives with modern convenience. However, we have to remain vigilant to protect ourselves against cybercrime and take quick action if we find ourselves targeted by cybercriminals.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.