Circumventing Cybercrime - Knock Off Week

Photo courtesy of Don Hankins.

If you’re worried about the ease of someone tracking down your social security number or other personal information nowadays, your fears are likely merited. The web’s expansive growth has created a portal for everyone’s most secret information to be dispensed and used against them, making fraud victims more common than ever in the last several years, and the subsequent monetary losses disastrous.

According to a report by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, over $3 million dollars in financial loss was reported to the FBI as a result of email impersonation scams in 2011. Losses for victims of loan intimidation exceeded $8 million. As noted on CNET, research this year shows U.S. consumers lost $20.7 billion to cybercrime.

“There has been an increase in cybercrime that takes advantage of social networks and mobile technology,” CNET reports based on a study done by Symantec. “Twenty one percent of online adults [have] fallen prey to social or mobile crime. The study also found that 15 percent of Web users have had their social-networking account infiltrated, and 1 in 10 have been victims of fake links or scams through a social network.”

Because of the gap between the IT know-it-alls and the computer illiterate, hackers can easily find ways to retrieve your personal information and take off running, uncovering easy access to details like credit card numbers, social security numbers, birth dates and bank statements. Most of us are easy targets for fraud, and with the shield of the online bubble, criminals can do their dirty work without a facemask and a pistol.

Dan Clements, ABC News consultant and founder of, addressed targeting for computer fraud in a story the outlet conducted on identity theft in 2008.

“You really don’t know [if you’re a target] until it’s confirmed with some type of action,” he explains. “But you can look for signs, like your accounts getting hit with $1 charges. Thieves sometimes use donation sites like the Red Cross to validate a card or debit account.”

He also suggested ways to safeguard your personal details.

“Always watch your online accounts like a hawk,” Clements points out. “A simple $1 charge could be the thieves’ pinging your account for validity. Get a new credit card number on its anniversary, re-PIN any debits cards every six months, and pick up a shredder…A service called ID from the Affinion Group tells you if they find your personal information out in cyberspace. They scour chat rooms, Web sites and message board forums to try to locate your data. If they find your debit or credit card, e-mail or Social Security number, they will notify you in real time.”

Additional signs you may be a victim include:

  • If a monthly bill doesn’t show up on time, an identity thief may have stolen it.
  • If you see mysterious charges on your credit card bills or a company mentions a charge that you didn’t make
  • If you have always had impeccable credit and suddenly you are turned down
  • If you order checks and they don’t arrive in a timely fashion

Another notorious strand of cyber crime involves online hacker forums, where viruses and fraud schemes proliferate resulting in billion dollar losses for companies and people. Reports USA Today, these forums – sites that “mirror the services of and the efficiencies of eBay” – are a sort of fast-rising business sector, with mergers, consolidations and dictatorial underpinnings. Not only is it easy for your identity to get stolen, there’s a whole market sector dedicated to manipulating your assets, and prosecuting lords of such underworlds is as difficult as ever.

“They learned that it’s best to disperse,” Yohai Einav, director of RSA Security’s Tel Aviv-based fraud intelligence team told the outlet. “Chasing these carding fraudsters is like chasing terrorists in Afghanistan. You know they are somewhere out there, but finding their caves, their underground bunkers, is almost impossible.”

There’s not a whole lot that can be done to failsafe your life against the throngs of Internet criminals, then, but staying alert and paying attention to your online existence can ward off a few. Per Silicon Republic, installing legitimate antivirus and antispyware software; protecting your wireless router with a password; googling yourself; and erasing your tracks on web browsers also assists in the process.

And be more creative with your passwords. If you’re like most of us and use the same one on every single site, consider yourself directly in the bulls-eye.