By: Mona Terry – Vice President of Victim Services, Identity Theft Resource Center
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a month to promote the awareness of staying safe online. October also means Halloween, a time for the monsters to come out. Ghosts and werewolves are just fictional, but real monsters are on the hunt to steal your personal information.
The Dangers of Cybercrimes
Cybercrimes are committed using a computer, network or networked device to steal money or information that can be sold to generate cash. There are different ways of committing cybercrimes like ransomware attacks, phishing attacks and social engineering attacks. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Q3 2021 Data Breach Analysis, the number of data compromises that can lead to identity crimes in 2021 has exceeded the total number of events in 2020 by 17 percent, with Phishing and Ransomware as the primary attack vectors that lead to data compromises.
The real monsters are looking to strike with spooky scams that can lead to these types of attacks. They use cybercrimes as a way to get their hands on your sensitive data, haunt you and commit an array of identity crimes.
Ways the Real Monsters Can Strike
- They can drain your bank account. The criminals may not be vampires out to drink your blood. However, they may go after your money. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, identity fraud cost Americans a total of about $56 billion in 2020, with around 49 million consumers falling victim. Worse, if you fall for a scam, the thieves could return again and again.
- They may look to commit identity theft of the deceased. As horrible as it sounds, deceased identity theft can strike whenever we lose a loved one. AARP reports that identity criminals use the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans each year to fraudulently open credit card accounts, apply for loans, and get cellphones or other services. Unfortunately, it is easy to accomplish due to publicly available information, like obituaries and death certificates. It can go unnoticed because no one may be checking up on their loved one’s credit report.
- The criminals will use the dark web. Not to be confused with a spider web, the dark web is a place for identity thieves to buy or sell sensitive information to commit identity theft. Right now, a hacked Gmail account costs $80 on the dark web. A hacked Facebook account costs $60, and a hacked Instagram account costs $35. The nefarious internet underworld is as scary as any haunted house. Only the monsters who are chasing you can actually cause you harm.
- Criminals will strike with phishing attacks. One of the best parts of Halloween, for young and old alike, is trick-or-treating. Whether you are taking in all the goodies or just enjoying the costumes that come your way, it is a lot of fun. What is not fun is getting caught in the snare of a phishing attack. Much like offering Halloween candy, criminals hold out promises of wealth, free gift cards or high-dollar coupons to your favorite store. Maybe even the chance to be recognized by the “boss” for doing a favor. Sometimes the stories are a little scary, too, like a phony threat from the IRS or having your bank account shut down.
- They may try to get you to fall for a romance scam. Halloween celebrators aren’t the only ones who wear masks. Scammers are out there pretending to be members of the military or Hollywood celebrities. Romance scams are deeply troubling because the victim not only loses their money (and potentially faces criminal charges), but their adoring “soulmate” turned out to be nothing more than a con artist. Criminals prey on people who are lonely or feel unsuccessful at finding love, and they use different tactics to do it. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), people in the U.S. lost over $100 million to romance scams between January 1 and July 31 of 2021.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
- Freeze your credit. Taking this one simple step will keep the real monsters from opening new lines of credit. You can also protect your information by monitoring your accounts for suspicious activity, not oversharing information, and securing all of your accounts with strong and unique passphrases.
- If you lose a loved one, take the appropriate steps. It’s important to lock down their credit report and social media accounts. Also, make sure the Social Security Administration (SSA) is made aware that the person connected to a Social Security number is deceased to prevent anyone from abusing them.
- Know how to spot phishing attacks. Avoiding scammers means learning how to spot their stories, no matter how scary they might sound. Never click on a link or respond to a message from someone you are not expecting. Instead, reach out to the person or company directly, using a different method of communication, to verify the validity of the message.
- Be careful while interacting with love interests online. If you meet someone online who cannot speak face-to-face or visit for some reason, such as working on an offshore oil rig or being deployed with the military, be cautious when talking with them. If the chat ever turns to needing money, it is a sign of a scam.
Contact the ITRC
The criminals are always looking to pounce. Whatever you do, don’t fall into their traps. It is not a full-size candy bar. It is a scam that will cost you money, your identity or both. Good cyber-hygiene habits are a great step in protecting your information and spotting a criminal's slimy schemes.
If you have more questions or believe you have fallen victim to an identity crime, contact the ITRC. You can speak with an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.