One of the biggest online dangers is identity theft — when criminals access your name, credit cards and other personal information to benefit themselves. In 2010 an estimated 8.6 million households in the US had at least one person who experienced identity theft — that is up from 6.4 million in 2005.
One of the major causes of identity theft is phishing. Phishing is a criminal activity in which can come in a variety of forms, however it usually manifests as fraudulent emails. These e-mails appear to come from a reputable business, i.e. banks, insurance companies, social networking sites, etc.
The e-mails give the reader a reason to click the link and log into a personal account. When the person clicks the link, they are taken to a website that seems to be genuine, however, the site is actually an exact replica run by web savvy criminals. Some sites even install malware on your system for the purpose of gathering your personal information.
Once the victim logs onto the fraudulent website, the criminal now has access to their user name and password. This allows the thieves to go to the actual site, log in as you, and steal any personal information you have stored, such as credit cards or bank account numbers, or engage in other fraudulent transactions (online orders etc.).
Here are some ways to avoid it:
- The best way to avoid it is to always go directly to a website before entering your log in information, never click on a link in an email.
- If you get a suspicious email purporting to be from your bank/credit card company etc, call the customer service number on your bank statement or the back of your credit/debit card and ask the representative if they sent you that email.
- Ensure your login passwords are different for every site. Often your favorite shopping website’s password will be the same as your banking password, and once a criminal has one they often try it against other sites – with an alarming success rate.
- Criminals have moved to voice phishing, whereby they call you on the phone from a spoofed caller ID pretending to be from your bank/credit card company etc, if you get such a call, politely decline and tell them you will call back. Dial the number on your statement/card and speak to the fraud department to verify that they placed the call to you. Never give out information unsolicited over the phone or internet.
- Ensure your computer’s security software is up to date, and that you are free of any malware or viruses. Your computer’s manufacturer can provide you with more detailed recommendations.
Surf safe, surf aware — and guard your information with care! For more information on all of the programs we offer, or for additional crime prevention tips, please visit our website: www.nypdcommunityaffairs.org.