The news headlines are filled with reports of hacking, data breaches, cybercrimes, and identity theft, and it feels like criminals find new ways to take advantage of any flaws in our technology every day. But there is a way to leverage how technology works, specifically social media accounts, in order to help protect your loved ones.

With the advent of social media and the abundance of platforms that let users semi-anonymously connect with strangers, parents have become very concerned about their children’s online activity. There is an increasing awareness of so-called cyberbullying, for example, or incidents that occur when a user is targeted by others through social media. There are also valid concerns about inappropriate content being shared, or that individuals with harmful motives may prey on children who use the internet.

A note on cyberbullying and online predators: too often, the victims don’t speak up for fear that reporting it to parents or school officials will just make it escalate. They feel powerless to stop something that is already spreading across the internet and are afraid that adult intervention will make it worse. Sadly, victims of cyberbullying have even resorted to suicide, and in some cases, their parents didn’t even know there was a problem. Only after that fact have outsiders told the parents what was happening, and even shown the parents some of the horrible posts on social media that targeted their children. Cases like that of Megan Meier have brought national attention to a situation that many parents were unaware of.

Now, app developers are introducing new tools that can help parents protect their children while still giving them the space to use social media platforms. These apps, many of which function by sending the parents text messages or alerts whenever certain keywords appear on their kids’ social media pages, can help parents feel like they’re intervening to prevent problems before they arise.

Keyword alerts can let parents know if their children are sending or receiving messages through texting or through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others that contain pre-determined words or phrases. These keywords can include racial slurs, sexual terms or innuendoes, profanity, or more. The apps often allow parents to set up blocks based on categories and by age of the child in question. These alerts then let parents know—in order to erase or block—messages that are either in print or image form. Some of the apps require the parents to know their children’s social media user names and passwords in order to quietly monitor their children’s activity, while others are designed for the parents to work with their kids to setup master lists, categories, and controls.

Critics of this type of app have stated that this amounts to nothing more than spying, which is something we as adults would never tolerate if we were the ones being watched. And ideally, there should be open communication and awareness of internet use and strict adherence to family rules about how these platforms will be used. But for parents who have reason to need this type of safeguard to protect their children’s physical safety, there are tools available through most mobile app stores.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

You’ve heard of taking a “selfie,” in which you take a picture of yourself and post it to social media. You might even be an avid fitness fanatic and therefore have even taken a “runfie,” which is the popular term for a photo of yourself before, during, or after any serious exercise effort. But if stealing smartphones with the intent of dumping their data and reselling them is your idea of a hobby, you’ve got a whole new photo op waiting for you: the “theftie.”

Thanks to extra measures being developed and marketed by cell phone manufacturers and security companies, your phone may now be able to take a photo of the thief who stole it and email it to you with the map to the phone’s current location. This feature can be engaged whenever someone enters the wrong passcode too many times, or when you notice your phone is missing and activate it from a computer.

Various phone manufacturers have developed their own systems of personal phone safety, and aftermarket apps and annual subscriptions have a number of features that do everything from taking the photo and tracking the phone all the way to emitting a loud siren or beep so you can find your phone if you’ve simply misplaced it.

Most of the security measures allow you to lock up the information in your phone if it’s stolen, preventing a thief from accessing things like your email, social media accounts, online banking app, and more. Many consumers worry about the safety of things like their photos and contacts lists as well, and this lock feature can also prevent a criminal from seeing the pictures of your kids, for example.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that some of these features are specific to the brand of phone and require you to have activated them. Apple, for example, offers a free feature called Find My iPhone on its models, but it can’t work if you didn’t have it turned on before the phone went missing. Samsung offers a service of its own, but it’s important to keep in mind that some apps will work differently on different brands of phones due to restrictions in the agreements.

Just how big a deal is this? It’s only a phone, after all… right? Not necessarily. First, a Consumer Reports survey estimates that there are more than three million phone thefts in the US each year; that’s not including the ones that are lost or damaged, that’s just the ones that are intentionally stolen. Thieves are predominantly interested in simply selling the phone, and recent changes to the laws on unlocking a phone for resale may actually make this crime increase.

But more than the inconvenience of having your phone stolen and the expense of losing a valuable device, it’s important to keep in mind that your smartphone is basically a mini computer. Your personally identifiable information can be accessed from it, depending on the behaviors you engage in with your phone. Users often keep their phones logged into their email accounts, their Facebook accounts, and more, and many banks, credit cards, and travel sites—just to name a few industries—have developed convenient apps that a thief could use to access your data and cause you serious harm.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

Cybercrime has become such a major global issue that many universities are now offering full degrees in the field. Covering everything from corporate security to military cyberwarfare, it’s an area of study that has a lot of students investigating it as a viable career choice.

Many individuals’ knowledge of cybercrimes extends to what they see on popular television shows or movies, but cybersecurity is one of the specialties in which the fantasy and the reality tend to line up fairly well. Unlike shoot-‘em-up action movies in which the heroes get away with insane tactics that would never work in the real world, the computer capabilities required to catch internet criminals are fairly straightforward but still require a complex working understanding of technology.

What makes this area of computer science so appealing is its multipronged approach. Not only is this a career field that is currently in high demand, it’s also one that speaks to a wide variety of backgrounds.

Some students will approach cybersecurity from a law enforcement standpoint, such as forensic investigations of internet crimes, while others will work in the corporate or retail sectors, helping to ensure the safety of corporate assets, consumer information, and more. Even more appealing, it’s a field where the technology is always changing and the “bad guys” are constantly adapting and finding new ways to hack into computer systems, meaning cybersecurity specialists are constantly learning, evolving, and staying on their toes. There’s no such thing as the same old thing when it comes to taking down cryptocriminals.

Since this degree field is so new, many businesses are going directly to the universities with their cybersecurity issues, meaning students in this particular field get hands-on educational opportunities; these opportunities result in real world knowledge and experience, but more importantly, they can result in building a broad networking base before you even graduate.

More importantly, many students who go into cybersecurity fields can see the effects of their work immediately. With identity theft, online fraud, internet black marketing, and even horrific crimes like underground networks of drug and human trafficking continuing to rise, these digital investigators can make a real difference in stopping some of the millions of reported crimes each year.

So where do you begin looking for a reputable university with a highly respected degree program in cybersecurity? The internet, of course.

As with any degree field, you need to do a little homework to ensure that your hard work and investment result in a respected degree that can help open doors to a career. Look for proven track records of employment after graduation, courses taught by well-known experts in cybercrime and computer science, and universities that have ongoing relationships with the corporate and law enforcement sectors.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

With the constant news reports about hacking or data breaches, it can feel like cybersecurity is a wasted effort, but it’s not. While cyberthieves are getting very crafty about their practices and their intended targets, your own behavior can do a lot to minimize how much you’re affected.

But with so much happening at school and your activities, it can be easy to overlook the important steps you should take to protect yourself. Luckily, by making some of these behaviors into constant habits, safeguarding yourself from a hacker can be pretty easy.

When you’re using a public computer lab like the ones in a library or on campus, make sure you treat each computer station as if someone was standing directly behind your shoulder, watching everything you do. If you can avoid it, don’t check your bank balance or credit card statement from a public computer, and try not to log into your social media accounts from those sites. Even if the network claims to be protected, you still can’t know who has gained access to the content that gets posted via that network.

But even if you’re working from your own device or computer, remember to guard it carefully. Your technology is a gateway into your identity, especially if it falls in the wrong hands. If you have to get up from where you’re working, take your laptop or tablet with you, even if you’re just going to get another cup of coffee. Leaving your device unattended provides a thief with the opportunity to steal your expensive device and take all of your stored school work with him; even worse, your computer can give a thief access to your personal data and provide him with the opportunity to ruin your reputation through posts on your social media accounts.

Avoid the temptation to let the laptop stay in “sleep” mode as a way to save time. It can be a little aggravating to turn your laptop on and off after using it because, as most college students have learned, you’ll just be turning it back on after a few hours of sleep anyway. By shutting it down completely when it’s not in use, you can thwart attempts to access data on it through installed malware, and the computer can install new updates from its operating system and other software applications. Don’t click “cancel” on those updates too often, either, since those updates have been designed by the company to protect your system from new threats, especially if they’re updates to your anti-virus software.

Social media is a whole other area that students need to be especially protective of. Most young people are now aware of the consequences of posting inappropriate content like pictures, personal anecdotes, and more. That content can hurt you when it comes times to look for a job, or worse, can even lead to criminal charges if it’s harmful enough.

One final tip for students involves your passwords. With so much going on and so many important things to remember during the school year, it can be tempting to use one easy password for all of your accounts. Don’t make that mistake. Be sure to use a secure enough password that contains a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and change your passwords frequently. Don’t do something that makes them easily accessible, like write them down then tape them to your desk, and don’t share those passwords with other students or roommates.

Protecting your identity and your security is fairly simple if you get in the good habit of understanding the threats and the possible consequences of having your data stolen. Watch out for your information and guard it carefully to avoid having a messy cleanup down the road.

There’s a really funny series of commercials out right now for a popular car insurance company, featuring a sweet older lady who just doesn’t understand how her computer works. She gives a number of comedic examples of how “tech savvy” she thinks she is, often while her friends look on, shaking their heads.

But the reality is far less funny. Whether it’s hacking into someone’s accounts or just resorting to an age-old phishing scam, hackers and identity thieves are still seeking out senior adults as the top victims for this kind of crime? Why? That’s a complicated answer.

Only a handful of years ago, the stereotype of senior citizens and their regard for computers would include a fearful attitude towards “newfangled” technology and a firm promise never to give up their “relic” ways. But that’s obviously an unfair assessment. Many senior adults have adapted quite well to the changing technological landscape and are even early adopters of some new devices and gadgets. Think back to the commercials; it’s the woman’s own friends who are saying, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!”

With this greater adoption of technology, though, criminals have quickly discovered that convincing people that their information is secure is all too easy. Would-be thieves rely on the hope that their targets don’t have the savviness to ward off viruses, malware, spyware, browser hijackers, and more. Many recent retirees, for example, individuals who may have once been avid computer users, are no longer receiving the same education and updates to their computer training and therefore may not have access to current information about new scams, new viruses, or new threats.

This makes retired adults prime subjects to fall victim to a would-be hacker.

At the same time, thieves know that older adults are in the right demographic in terms of having disposable income and for not having other commitments that might tie up that income, such as children living at home or even a mortgage payment. While we often hear about the fixed income plight of elderly citizens, it’s also true that some of their larger expenses may have been resolved at their ages, meaning the income they do have and the nest egg they’ve built up over the years is just sitting there for the taking.

The best thing older computer users can do to protect themselves is to stay current on cyber news and make themselves aware of the day-to-day threats. More importantly, though, is remembering to treat their personal information as though it was the access code to their bank accounts or the keys to their front doors. In many ways, their personal identifying information is even more valuable than their bank accounts or homes, largely because thefts in those areas are protected by regulations and by law. Always keep personal data like Social Security statements, bank and retirement account statements, and credit card statements out of the hands of the wrong people by shredding them before discarding. While online, always treat the internet as though your private information can be shared at the touch of one wrong button.

By practices safe technology use and guarding private content, adults can accomplish a lot towards keeping their information out of thieves’ hands.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

Recent news reports about a public initiative from Comcast have more than a few customers scratching their heads, and critics raising a cry of alarm. Last year, the cable television, phone, and internet service provider began swapping its customers’ home service routers with new ones that will allow strangers to connect to the customers’ wifi, basically turning their homes into public hotspots. On the surface, this is an incredibly frightening concept.

But when you actually investigate the process, this becomes a little less fearsome. Basically, the new routers contain two antennae and are set up to function as two completely separate networks. The company assured its customers that strangers cannot sit in their cars in front of a house and tap into the homeowner’s network. At best, a stranger who has a verified and paid-for Xfinity account and is using a registered device can connect to a separate internet connection thanks to the box sitting on your desk, but he cannot access anything on your network. It’s exactly as if he’d taken his laptop to Starbucks and was using their internet connection instead of your home.

The goal of the program is to create wifi clouds over entire cities, helping people stay connected to their existing Xfinity accounts. This is really great news if you have one of those accounts, because you can log into your own personal network no matter where you go and not have to pay extra for internet access.

Still, knowing that every great plan can have some undiscovered flaws, there are some things to be concerned about. Right now, Comcast assures the public that it is not possible for a hacker to access your internet connection and your sensitive data through this joint router, but that’s a big “if.” It’s a little reminiscent of “God himself can’t sink this ship,” and history remembers how that turned out.

It is slightly eyebrow-raising that Comcast has already verified the legal liability of having someone else connect through your router. The company has assured its clients that if an outsider commits any type of crime through your router, the FBI cannot take action against you. While it’s good that Comcast thought to find that out, it does potentially indicate that Comcast thinks it could happen.

The good news is the steps that you need to take to protect your personal data are exactly the same as if a hacker broke into your private, non-Comcast connection. Yes, your home computer is more secure than say, accessing your bank account over a public wifi connection in the mall, but sophisticated thieves know how to find data if they’re looking for it. You just need to make sure you password protect your data with strong passwords, that you don’t use the same password on all of your accounts, and that you practice the good habit of changing your passwords from time to time.

The other good news is that Comcast currently lets its customers opt out of this program by calling and requesting that their home routers not be enabled as public hotspots. This project has the potential to be an eco-friendly move by reducing the need for additional hotspots, allowing connectivity to take place through routers that are already plugged in and functioning; there are also a growing number of educational initiatives that help students be connected when they’re away from school. Again, this does not impact your security or your bill, but it’s better to take proactive steps to safeguard your information than to find out after a data breach has happened that there was a problem with the concept.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

It used to be enough to hack into a corporation’s servers, access personal data on hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of the company’s customers, and use that data to steal identities. But that’s just so much work. A new threat is on the rise, and hacker groups like Rex Mundi (King of the World) have made headlines for their efforts.

In Rex Mundi’s operations, seasoned hackers steal the personally identifiable information of a large number of customers, then blackmail the company with threats to release word of that hacking, sell the information, or use it themselves. The most recent victim of the group’s crime was Domino’s Pizza’s European division after the group accessed 600,000 customers’ accounts.

The group targeted the accounts of customers who had placed online pizza delivery orders in France and Belgium, then sent word to the company’s corporate office that they would release that secure information unless they were paid €30,000 (around $41,000). Luckily, Domino’s turned the threat over to the French authorities; blackmail seems to carry a far greater penalty than hacking, and the matter is being resolved.

Interestingly, Rex Mundi doesn’t seem to be very good at what they do. While even a Domino’s spokesperson acknowledged that the actual cybercrime they pulled off was very sophisticated, the hacker group has targeted other companies with their blackmail attempt in the past and experienced similar disappointing results. Their first mistake was in targeting a company that doesn’t gather highly sensitive data; the thieves only accessed the names, physical addresses, email addresses, and pizza-specific passwords on the customers.

But there are important lessons to be learned from this. The first painful lesson is that thieves are becoming more and more creative every day. Blackmailing companies with stolen information is a frightening concept, especially when your information is hanging in the balance. But if you look at the reactions of the companies who were affected, they took swift action with the authorities rather than just sit back and believe cybercrime is unavoidable. This particular case also happened to involve a company that not only didn’t gather useless amounts of personal data on their customers, but also didn’t store the financial, banking, or credit card information. That left the thieves with pretty much useless stolen information, much of it readily available from a public records or internet search.

By doing business with companies that don’t gather and store your sensitive information, you can add an extra layer of protection to your personal data. Make sure you’re not sharing things like your Social Security number with companies who don’t need it, and ask yourself whether you really need the convenience of storing your credit card number on a pizza delivery website or if you can uncheck the box to store it and just enter it each time you make a purchase. Of course, there is a threat to customers in this case who use the same password everywhere since the hackers now have that password, so be sure that you’re not putting your “go to” password everywhere online.

While the customers had no control over thieves hacking into the system or Domino’s handling of the situation, this is another example of taking preventive steps to safeguard your information and identity.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

A heated debate has been underway in the California state legislature over your telephone. Whether you knew it or not, government leaders and consumer protection groups have been battling it out over the proposed requirement that would declare mobile phone manufacturers to provide kill switches on any smartphone sold in California (the requirement that tablets be equipped with a kill switch was lifted).

A kill switch allows any user to contact his mobile service provider and activate the option to “brick” the phone, making it entirely useless. Not only would this wipe all data from the phone, but would also make it impossible to activate in another user’s name, hence the terming “bricking,” meaning it would be about as useful as a brick.

Imagine having your phone stolen by a mugger and watching from where you were forced to lay on the sidewalk as he walks away with your phone…and the pictures of your young children, your bank account app, your classified work emails, and more. Being able to brick the phone immediately would not only take all of that information right out of his hands, but would also keep him from wanting to steal your phone in the first place. He basically has a matter of minutes to get that phone switched to a new user and new carrier in order to block your kill switch, and it’s just not worth it.

On the other hand, imagine an entirely different scenario. A months’-long investigation leads to a manhunt that brings down a major suspect, one who’s been on several most wanted lists for horrific violent crimes. He arrives at the police station for booking and is given his one phone call. Instead of calling family or his lawyer, he calls his service provider and tells them the phone has been stolen. All of the evidence the police needed to hand over to a grand jury just got deleted with that phone call.

There are good reasons and bad reasons to even have a kill switch on the phone, and consumers need to be protected in the event of the most likely scenarios. Supporters of the initiative see this as a way to cut down on phone thefts, a crime which not only chews up valuable law enforcement resources to address the rising reports, but also could potentially decrease violent crimes in which consumers are attacked for their phones. Critics, however, argue that the kill switch is expensive and unnecessary, but much of that criticism has come from an insurance company that offers loss and theft plans for phones.

What politicians are currently fighting over, though, is the mandate that all phones manufactured after July 2015 be equipped with this ability. As it currently stands, most of the major cellular providers and a number of device makers have signed on to follow voluntary compliance, but are resisting government mandates on the grounds that it’s difficult to manufacture a whole product subset based on the wishes of one individual state.

But as consumers, what do you think? Which scenario is more likely to involve you, one in which a mugging or theft is thwarted because all you have to do is brick your phone, or one in which the price of cell phones in one state just increased exponentially to cover the costs of redesigning all of the phones sold within that state? Let us know which side of the issue you see as a greater threat to individual security.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

When most citizens think of identity theft, the usual processes might come to mind. A thief nabs a Social Security number or bank account number and makes off with a good deal of money. But as consumers have grown more aware of the problem and corporations have instituted better measures to safeguard their clients’ personally identifiable information, criminals have had to adapt in order to keep their stolen income going.

One of the growing numbers of internet scams is called “ransoming,” as thieves literally hold your smartphone, tablet, or computer for ransom. By introducing malware to your system that freezes your computer and makes the files inaccessible, criminals trick you into thinking that you can remove the malware and restore your device if you pay the money. Often they’ll play off your fears of repercussions, such as stating you have an unpaid debt you never knew about or the even more frightening prospect of informing you that you have broken the law and owe a fine for criminal activity. The thieves make off with your money while you struggle to unlock your device after you paid the hefty fee.

There are a number of problems with this type of crime, the least of which is paying the fee serves no purpose. The FBI has warned that it’s not possible to “decrypt” your files from any computer other than the one that attacked it in the first place. Some unfortunate consumers have gone so far as to just throw away their devices because they think they’re unusable, only to purchase new ones after discovering that paying the ransom didn’t solve the problem.

The most important thing consumers can do is to prevent the likelihood of a threat. These programs are spread through email, video links, and social media channels. Do not click on links that you’re not expecting, even if it comes from an email or social media user you know as that person’s account could quite easily have been hacked. Make sure your antivirus and malware software is up-to-date and that you back up your computer’s files regularly in case you have to reinstall them later. Also, do not fall for their tricks and pay any money…remember, no one will ever contact you online for money owed to the IRS or because you were found guilty of a crime and owe a fine. That’s just not how it works.

Finally, if your computer or device is ransomed, don’t pitch it in the trash just yet. There are steps to take in order to salvage an Android phone or tablet should this happen, and your computer’s file backup should help restore your computer if you have to do a reinstall.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit

As one of the leaders in the cyberinformation industry, Verizon goes to great lengths to understand how data breaches happen.

In its most recent Data Breach Investigations Report (2014), the experts who analyzed more than ten years’ worth of reported cybercrimes found that more than ninety percent of the crimes could be traced to one of only nine different issues or behaviors that invited criminals in:

  • Random mistakes, such as sending an email to the wrong recipient (providing that user with access to your personal information)
  • Malware, or software whose purpose is to work its way into your stored data and pull out pertinent information
  • Insider abuse, which occurs when someone with granted permission to access your content misuses that permission for illegal gains
  • Physical theft or the accidental loss of your computer, phone, tablet, or credit cards
  • Web-based attacks that work through a “hole” in a website or app
  • Denial of service crimes, in which a hacker attacks a server to prevent customers from having access to their goods, services, or account information
  • Cyberespionage, which as the name implies, is using technology for spying purposes
  • Point-of-sale attacks in which consumers’ personal information is stolen through retailers’ malware-infected servers
  • Payment skimming, which can happen when your information is stolen at the point when your card is slid through a payment console

Verizon’s team broke the report down even further by explaining that a full 75% of these crimes as they affected banks and corporations involved either Web app attacks, denial of services, or card skimming crimes. Retail outlets were more affected by denial of service attacks and those point-of-sale crimes. The researchers did discover that cyberespionage is on the rise by having nearly three times as many reports as in the past.

Perhaps most interesting to the average consumer is the fact that the number one way to gain access to personal identifying information—including not only that personal information, but financial information—is through stolen user names and passwords. It’s disappointing to know that there isn’t a foolproof way to completely prevent cybercrimes and identity theft, but it should be reassuring to know that the overwhelming majority of these kinds of crimes fall into one of those categories. That means that law enforcement and the financial and retail industries at least have a good idea of where their breaches can happen and what to do about it when it does happen.

But what can you do about it? As always, the most important thing you can do is to guard your information in order to prevent a crime. Don’t use the same username and password on multiple sites, especially ones that link to your finances; also be sure to change those passwords from time to time. Keep your online shopping limited to well-known retailers who you trust. Even though recent news has proven that anyone can be a victim of widespread point-of-sale attacks, large corporations are more likely to have safeguards in place and to be prepared in the event of an attack on your finances.

Interestingly, this year’s report marks the first year that the team studied attempted attacks that were unsuccessful. This gives the industry a better understanding of cybercrime in general, which makes the awareness efforts of groups like the ITRC more purposeful and increases the chances that we can prevent this type of crime.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit