Identity theft has always been a problem, but the digital era has seen it blossoming into a deadly flower. Every day people receive an email or SMS telling them that a distant relative has passed away or that some Nigerian prince wants to do business with them and all they have to do is to give their bank details.
Take control. Sign up to receive alerts of any credit applications that rely on your ID number (this service is offered by most credit bureaus). If anyone tries to access credit using your ID number, you’ll be notified. These alerts also let you know if any organisations make an enquiry on your credit records.
Social media security
Be guarded when it comes to the personal details that you divulge on social media sites. Never share or publish information like ID numbers, cellphone numbers, and home addresses. Modify your privacy settings so they are as strong as can be.
Phishing, spear-phishing, whaling
Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy is how transparent a phishing attempt looks in retrospect. But when you’re in the moment, emotions tend to take over. This is why it is important to always be realistic:
The odds of you having a distant relative whom you’ve never heard of before are slim. The chances that said relative was wealthy and has decided to leave all their riches to you? Next to nothing. And no, there isn’t a Nigerian prince or Arabian sheik who wants to do business with you. And that refugee in a refugee camp requesting help to come to your country (yes, the one that wants to start a new life, all they require is a little bit of financial help) doesn’t even have access to clean drinking water every day, much less a computer.
Phishers are master manipulators of emotions, which is why so many people fall victim to them. In recent years, phishing has evolved into a more targeted form called “spear-phishing”, and even into “whaling”. This is when the sender uses whichever information they can find on the target and alter their message to seem as authentic as possible.
Vigilance is critical in securing your personal wealth online. Monitor your credit card statements, change your online banking passwords often, and sign-up for real-time alerts of any activity on your accounts.
Start by using your mobile device as an authentication tool; enable a two-factor authentication for key web services (so that PIN codes are SMSed to your cellphone, for instance). As more and more of our lives and our work rely on mobile devices, it’s time to treat your phone with the same level of diligence of your laptops or desktops: get anti-virus software, use a passcode lock on your device, and don’t leave it unattended, even for a moment. Both Avira and Avast have some decent cellphone anti-virus software, so have a look if you don’t have it already. Many Apple users are lulled into a false sense of security. We often hear how “Apples can’t get viruses.” This being said, it is better to be safe that sorry. Still in doubt? Tell some IT programmers that you don’t need antivirus software for your Apple products and they’ll laugh at you. The reason? Where there is a will, there is a way. Although hackers often go for the easiest target (which seldom has a half-eaten apple as a logo on it), the thrill of the challenge is why many hackers get into the “industry” to start with.
For many individuals, the web browser itself can be a huge area of vulnerability. Turn off any “save this password” features in your browser. Rather use a professional password manager service to do this, Avast has a nice one – and it’s free. Use unique passwords for different logins – it’s the best way to prevent one data breach from causing a domino effect for every online service or account that you have.
When using guest access WiFi services from coffee shops, businesses, airports and the like, consider using a VPN. This provides a secure connection over the Internet between you, your data, and the websites to which you’re connected to. Also be careful of the sites you access, be wary of doing online banking or any sensitive work while connected to public wifi
Remain vigilant and suspicious at all times; your digital security is your responsibility. By focusing on the seven key areas above, you’ll reduce the likelihood of being a victim of digital fraud.