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  • A new Google Photo sharing scam is the latest attempt to steal your credentials to hack and access your accounts.
  • You receive a message claiming to be from Google Photo that says someone is sharing a photo album with you. You’re asked to log into your account, except the message isn’t real, and the criminals take off with your Google credentials.
  • If you receive a message you are not expecting or from someone you don’t know, don’t click on any link in the message.
  • If you want to learn more about the Google Photo sharing scam or if you are a victim, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

Scammers always try to find different ways to attack consumers. One new attempt is through a text or email that appears to come from Google Photo. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recently received a suspicious message that appeared to be a legitimate attempt to share a Google Photo album. However, it was actually a phishing scam.

Like many phishing attacks, the Google Photo sharing scam is an attempt to steal your credentials. The tactic has become more common with cybercriminals shifting away from attacks seeking consumer information and towards attacks that target logins and passwords. 

Who is the Target?

Text message users; email users

What is the Scam?

You receive what appears to be a real attempt to share a Google Photo album. The message claims that someone has shared a photo album with you. However, there is no photo album. Once you click the “View Photo” link, you are prompted to another website to log into your Google account. Since the website captures the login information, you then provide the identity thieves with access to your credentials and account.

What They Want

It’s always easier to steal something when you have the key to a lock instead of having to break into where valuables are kept. Identity criminals want to access personal and work accounts because that’s easier and faster than trying to break into a system. The Google Photo sharing scam is a way for identity criminals to get the credentials needed to access and steal personal and company information. According to the FBI, email compromises cost U.S. businesses $1.8 billion, and phishing schemes cost individuals $54 million in 2020.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • Never click on a link in a suspicious or unexpected message. While the message might look legitimate, the links and attachments could still have malware. Instead, if the message comes from a “company,” reach out to the company directly to verify whether the message is real. If it comes from an unknown person, delete the message without clicking any links.
  • Check the URL link and be on the lookout for short links. Sometimes, there are signs in the link that give away it is a scam. For example, a link address might read “Goo.gle” instead of “Google.” You are more likely to see that when a link is shortened, a favorite tactic of cybercriminals. Another tactic is typing out a hyperlinked text to what looks like a legitimate website (like Google.com). However, it actually displays an unknown site when you hover over the link.
  • Use Multifactor Authentication (MFA) on important accounts. Even trained cybersecurity professionals fall for sophisticated phishing attempts that look real. That’s why it’s important to use MFA on any account that offers the feature. Use an authenticator app when possible – Microsoft and Google offer them for free – because they are more secure than just having a code texted to your mobile device. With MFA in place, having your login and password won’t help a criminal access your protected accounts.
  • Never reuse or share passwords. Criminals steal logins and passwords because they know most people use the same password on multiple accounts. Too many people also use the same passwords at home and work. Make sure each account has a unique password that is at least 12 characters long.

If you believe you are a victim of a Google Photo sharing scam or would like to learn more, contact the ITRC toll-free. You can call (888.400.5530) or use the live-chat function on the company website. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.   

  • The Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) 2020 Data Breach Report shows 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware.  
  • Google and Stanford University study reveals that people with more than one device are more likely to be struck by a phishing attempt. It also says that Australia is the most targeted country for phishing attacks
  • Proofpoint Security study says people who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware. 
  • All three reports make the same point about the rise in phishing attacks – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notified
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for February 12, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy. This week we talk about what seems to be the average cybercriminals’ favorite pastime – phishing and the rise in phishing attacks. Phishing with a ph. In Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare’s incredibly complex play about the Trojan War, the main character compares the great lengths some people go to deceive the search for the other kind of fishing that gives rise to our episode title: 

Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion, 

I with great truth catch mere simplicity 

ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report & the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Two weeks ago, the ITRC released our annual data breach analysis, which pointed out that 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware. Phishing was in the number one position because it is a simple attack to execute. 

Google and Stanford University Study Reveals New Phishing Attack Findings 

This week, Google and Stanford University released a new study that looked at the 1.2 billion phishing emails aimed at Gmail users during a five-month period in 2020. Among the findings: 

  • People are more at risk of a phishing attempt if they have more than one device. If someone only has a desktop or laptop, or only has a smartphone, they are less likely to be a target. The conclusion is if someone has multiple devices, they have more of an online presence. It is the same if someone sends a lot of emails – they are five times more likely to be phished if they do. 
  • Older users are targeted more frequently than younger people. Someone between the ages of 55-64-years-old is 1.6 times more likely to be the target of a phishing scheme than someone who is 18-24-years-old. One potential reason is that the older someone gets, the bigger their footprint, which makes them easier to find. 

People in Australia are More Likely to be Targeted by a Phishing Attack 

Who in the world do you think is the most targeted country? This will surprise you. While U.S. residents send more emails by volume than any other country, people in Australia are more likely to be targeted for a phishing attack than anyone else. In fact, the odds are nearly double that they will be phish bait down under.  

The U.S is number 16 when it comes to the likelihood of being targeted on a country adjusted basis. This is the point where we need to ask once again – why is there a rise in phishing attacks? 

Third-Party Breaches and Their Impact on the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Proofpoint Security reported this week a 14 percent increase in malicious phishing emails in 2020 over the previous year. Here is the truly staggering statistic: People who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware, according to the report, which highlights just how damaging these types of data breaches can be, even in the long run. 

What the Reports Mean for Consumers  

The report comes on the heels of the announcement of the release in an identity marketplace of the largest set of logins and passwords ever compiled. Around 3.2 billion credentials were stolen in previous data breaches and bundled in a single file. All of these reports – from the ITRC, Google and Stanford University, and Proofpoint make the same point – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people those impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 

To quote Proofpoint: 

“Our results suggest that data breaches expose users to lasting harms due to the lack of viable remediation options.” 

Contact the ITRC 

If anyone has questions about protecting their information from data breaches and data exposures before they happen, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where there are helpful tips on phishing attacks and many other topics – including the 2020 Data Breach Report

If someone believes they have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and needs help figuring out what to do next, contact us to speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), chat live on the web or exchange emails during our normal business hours (6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST). Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

Be sure to check out the most recent episode of our sister podcast – The Fraudian Slip – with a special guest from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We will be back next week for another Weekly Breach Breakdown. 

*Updated as of 3/10/2021

  • The third round of stimulus payments is on the way. Scammers are aware, too, which means another round of scams as well.
  • Remember, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not text, email or call anyone about a stimulus payment. If someone receives an unsolicited message from someone claiming to be with the IRS, it is probably a scam. Consumers should contact the IRS directly to verify before they respond. 
  • Offers that require people to pay to receive a stimulus benefit or to use a service to get a payment faster are also signs of a stimulus payment scam. 
  • Consumers can track their new stimulus checks once they are sent. Then can visit the IRS “Get My Payment” page to follow their payments.  
  •  To learn more about stimulus payment scams, the new stimulus payment or if someone suspects they are the victim of a stimulus scam, they can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.  

New Stimulus Payments Approved by Lawmakers 

Lawmakers voted to approve the third stimulus package since the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes a $1,400 stimulus payment for anyone who earns $75,000 or less (the payments start to phase out at $75,000), extends jobless aid supplement and programs making more people eligible for unemployment insurance, and much more.

Late in 2020, lawmakers agreed on a new stimulus package, which included a $600 stimulus payment for anyone who earned $75,000 or less. There was also a reduced payment for anyone who made $75,000-$99,000.

In the spring of 2020, the first batch of stimulus payments assisted Americans in need of financial relief due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Criminals took advantage of the situation by offering to help benefit recipients speed access to their stimulus funds. Criminals stole checks from nursing home residents, out of people’s mailboxes, and even from postal trucks. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) saw some of those methods used to steal identity information and stimulus payments the second time around, and expect to see it again. The ITRC has also had a sharp rise in reported stolen stimulus payments and stimulus payment scams cases.

As of March 10, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 382,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments totaling more than $366 million in losses. Two-thirds of the complaints involved fraud or identity theft. The median fraud loss per person is $325.

New stimulus checks mean more scams are on the way. With more stimulus payment fraud expected, consumers should know how to spot a scam and what to do if an identity criminal contacts them.

Possible Stimulus Payment Scams 

According to the Washington Post, researchers recently discovered a campaign of thousands of emails that sought to trick Americans into filling out a phony form to “apply” for American Rescue Plan checks from the IRS before the third stimulus package was even passed by congress. The emails encouraged recipients to download an Excel sheet that launched malicious software that steals personal banking information and other login credentials once downloaded.

Criminals use different schemes to trick people, and they can be expected to do the same this time, as seen above. Here are a few things for people to watch for that indicate that someone might be the target of a stimulus payment scam:

  • Text messages and emails about stimulus payments – Criminals use text messages and emails to send malicious links in hopes that people will click on them to divulge personal information or insert malware onto someone’s device. If anyone receives a text message or email about a stimulus check or direct deposit with a link to click or a file to open, they should ignore it. It’s a scam because the IRS will not contact anyone unsolicited by text, email or phone to discuss a stimulus payment. 
  • Asked to verify financial information – The IRS will not call, text or email anyone to verify their information. If information needs to be confirmed, people will be directed to an IRS web page. This includes retirees who might not typically file a tax return.  
  • A fake check in the mail – Anyone who earns $75,000 or less will get $1,400. People who make between $75,000-$80,000 will receive a reduced amount. Anyone who gets a check and has questions about the amount, or thinks the check seems suspicious, should contact the IRS.
  • Offers for faster payments – Any claim offering payment faster through a third-party is a scam. All new stimulus checks will come from the IRS, and the IRS says there is no way to expedite a payment.  
  • Pay to get a check – No one has to pay to receive a stimulus check. New stimulus checks will be deposited directly into the same banking account used for previous stimulus payments or the most recent tax refund. If the IRS does not have someone’s direct deposit information, a check or prepaid card will be mailed to the last known address on file at the IRS.
  • Stolen checks – The ITRC has received numerous complaints from consumers about their stimulus checks being stolen. If anyone believes their payment is stolen, they should visit IDTheft.gov, where they can report, “Someone filed a Federal tax return – or claimed an economic stimulus payment – using my information.”

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Stimulus Payment Scams 

 If anyone believes their information may have been compromised or their stimulus payment was stolen, the IRS suggests people report it to the IRS and FTC simultaneously through IdentityTheft.gov. If anyone wants to learn more about stimulus payment scams or if someone believes they are the victim of a stimulus payment scam, they may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free. Consumers can call (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the website. People can go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

  • A new unsubscribe email scam tries to scare people into “unsubscribing” from confirmation emails coming from an adult dating list.
  • The unsubscribe button could lead to malware or to a form to steal your personal information.
  • Anyone who receives a suspicious email they are not expecting should ignore it and not click on any links, open any attachments, or download any files. Users can also report the email as spam.
  • For more information, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat with an expert advisor on the company website.

Scammers are always looking for new ways to dupe consumers into turning over their personal information or spreading malware to one of their devices. A new unsubscribe email scam reported to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) tries to trick people into clicking an “unsubscribe button” that could be either a malicious link or a form to steal your personal information.

Who It Is Targeting

Email users

What It Is

A “confirmation” email that claims you received a private message from an adult dating website. The fake email asks the user to confirm by entering their email address and name, and it gives people an option to “unsubscribe” if they would like to stop receiving the adult dating list emails. Scammers use scare tactics such as an email from an adult website in hopes people will click the “unsubscribe” button.

What They Are After

Entering your email address and name into the confirmation email gives cybercriminals the personal information needed to commit identity crimes. Clicking the “unsubscribe” button could lead to malware infecting your device, or to a form that asks for your personal information.

What You Can Do

  • If you receive a suspicious or unexpected message that includes links or asks for your information, ignore it. If it claims to be from a legitimate company, go directly to the source to verify the validity of the message.
  • Do not click on any links, open any attachments, or download any files in an email or text unless you confirm it is legitimate.
  • Use your email provider’s “spam” feature to report the email as junk rather than clicking unsubscribe.

If you believe you have fallen victim to an unsubscribe email scam or have additional questions, call the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat with an expert advisor on the company website.

Phishing attacks are nothing new. However, with scammers increasingly using sophisticated and new methods of harming recipients that experts are not as familiar with, being able to identify a phishing attack has never been more important. They can arrive as emails, texts, social media messages, phone calls or links to websites which appear to come from someone the victim knows or a legitimate business. It might look like a boss or co-worker, someone in an email contact list, a bank or a consumer’s favorite retailer.

Trusted brands are used to provide an air of credibility for scammers, who capitalize on the good reputation and relationships these brands have built. Some brands that have been used in phishing attacks to target consumers include Wells Fargo, Zoom, American Express, Apple and Microsoft. The companies being used are not involved in these scams; in many ways, they are victims of the scammer as much as the targeted consumer.

Every phishing attack has a different goal, depending on what kind of ruse they are using. Some use links or attachments to insert malicious code on the user’s device so they can collect more information. Others attempt to steal people’s personal and business usernames or passwords,  and others still try to get someone to click on a well-disguised link so they can divert them to a place where the user enters even more information that the fraudster will use to his or her benefit. While phishing attacks have different objectives, the attackers’ primary goal is to steal the information needed to scam individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, the age-old advice about avoiding a phishing attack still holds true. These are some things people should keep in mind when trying to identify a phishing attack.

Check the email address and URL to make sure it is not fake

Check unexpected inbound messages very carefully, paying special attention to the sender’s email or website address included in the message; they might notice something strange. If it says “Amaz0n.com,” for example, it is fake. If the website link is Citibank.card.shop.com (as an example), instead of the company’s actual web address, again, it is probably fake. Always go back to the source of the email (or in this case, the company that is being represented) and check for alerts about potential scams of which they are already aware. Many times, the company is aware and has posted information about the scam.

Never click on an unknown link or open an unexpected attachment

Received an unexpected email, text, social media message or phone call with a link or an attachment?  Consumers should reach out directly to the purported “source” of the communication to verify the validity of the message before clicking on a link or opening an attachment (as mentioned above). Clicking on a malicious link or opening a bogus attachment could lead to someone’s personal information being stolen or infect the device with malware.

Check the message for grammatical errors and awkward phrasing

Read unexpected messages carefully and with a critical eye. Grammatical errors and awkward language are two quick indicators that the email isn’t sent by the company indicated. In trying to identify a phishing attack, customers should remember that companies do not send out emails or other messages with glaring errors – in most cases, large, reputable companies have teams checking their communications for just those types of issues. Smaller businesses may have a looser communication style, but loyal customers will know if something is “off.”  If someone sees any strange mistakes, that is probably a sign it is a fake. In fact, sometimes spelling mistakes are intentional so that only more gullible recipients will interact.

Never trust the caller ID

Do not go by what the caller ID may say. It is easy for a scammer to change the phone number or screen name to say anything, like “IRS” or “County Sheriff’s Department.” If someone calls with an attempt to verify identity information or demands for some kind of payment, consumers should hang up immediately and initiate contact with the company directly using a verified phone number from a trusted source. Here’s a tip: people should put numbers in their contact list for companies that are used regularly – but name them something only they would identify. For example, list the bank as “Bank on 4th & Main St.” instead of by the bank’s name. That way, if there’s an inbound call from the number, the person receiving the call will know they can trust it.

Remember that in many cases, fraudsters are using websites that look like the companies they are pretending to be. A web search could also bring someone to a potential fraudulent site. People should always treat the search results with the same critical eye as they would these other steps.

Phishing attacks can be confusing because of how close to real they can look or sound. Scam websites, emails, phone calls and text messages that mimic trusted brands will continue. However, by implementing these tips to identify a phishing attack, it will help reduce the risk of falling for a phishing attack.

Anyone with additional questions about phishing attacks, or believes they have been a victim of one, can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 to speak with an expert advisor. They can also use the live-chat feature on the website to get the help they need.


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People are spending more time on their phones, tablets and computers now than ever, making the importance of cyber-hygiene tips as paramount as they’ve ever been. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) wants to highlight some of the best practices and steps that users can take to improve their online security.

We recommend everyone make these cyber-hygiene tips part of their regular routine to greatly reduce their risk of identity theft or other cybersecurity compromises.

1. Use a secure connection and a VPN to connect to the internet

A virtual private network (VPN) is a digital tool that keeps outsiders, such as hackers, identity thieves, spammers and even advertisers from seeing online activity. Users should also be wary of public Wi-Fi. While public Wi-Fi may be convenient, it can have many privacy and security risks that could leave someone vulnerable to digital snoops. If connecting to public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a VPN.

2. Get educated about the terms of service and other policies

It is important to understand what the terms of service and other policies say because, once you check the box, you may have agreed to have your information stored and sold, automatic renewals, location-based monitoring and more.

3. Make sure anti-virus software is running on all devices

It is very important to have anti-virus software running on every device because it is designed to prevent, detect and remove software viruses and other malicious software. It will protect your devices from potential attacks.

4. Set up all online accounts (email, financial, shopping, etc.) with two-factor or multi-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of protection to your accounts; it requires at least two separate verification steps to log into an account. Relying on a minimum of two methods of login credentials before accessing accounts will make it harder for a hacker to gain access.

5. Use secure payment methods when shopping online

One easy cyber-hygiene step is to only shop on trusted websites and use trusted payment methods. Consumers should not use payment portals or shop on websites with which they are not familiar.

Always use a payment instrument that has a dispute resolution process – like a credit card or PayPal – if you have to shop on an unfamiliar site.

6. Use unique passphrases for passwords and do not reuse passwords

The best practice these days is to use a nine to ten-character passphrase instead of an eight-character password. A passphrase is easier to remember and harder for hackers to crack.

Also, users should employ unique passphrases; if they use the same one, hackers can gain access to multiple accounts through tactics like credential stuffing.

7. Never open a link from an unknown source

Do not click on links or download attachments via email or text – unless you are expecting something from someone or a business you know. If it is spam, it could insert malware on your device.

Also, never enter personally identifiable information (PII) or payment information on websites and web forms that are not secure or have not been fully vetted. It could be a portal to steal personal information.

8. Make sure devices are password protected

If devices are not password protected, it is just that much easier for a hacker to share or steal personal information. Without a layer of protection or authentication to access the device, all the information saved on it becomes fair game. Use a PIN code, biometric or pattern recognition to lock your devices and set the same protection for apps that have access to sensitive information like banking or credit cards.

9. Log out of accounts when done

This is another bad habit that makes it much easier for someone to share or steal your information. Always log out of accounts when done so no one can get easy access to them.

While there is nothing that can be done to eliminate identity theft, account takeovers and other malicious intent, these cyber-hygiene tips will help keep consumers safe, as well as reduce the number of cybercrime victims.

For anyone who believes they have been a victim of identity theft or has questions about cyber-hygiene tips, they can call the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 to speak with an expert advisor. They can also live-chat through the website or the free ID Theft Help app.


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Ransomware is something no one wants to end up with. It is a type of malicious software that is designed to deny access to data or a computer system until the hacker is paid. Ransomware is just one of many forms of malware, code that is developed by cyberattackers to cause damage to data and systems or gain unauthorized access. While there are many different types of ransomware, the operators behind the Maze ransomware attacks are some of the bad-actors at the core of many of these types of data compromises or phishing emails.

Maze is considered a sophisticated Windows ransomware type with the threat actors using it to ambush many organizations with demands of cryptocurrency payments in exchange for the stolen data. The impact of the Maze group and other similar ransomware exploits has led to a growing problem.

According to healthitsecurity.com, in May, the Maze operators published two plastic surgeons’ stolen data for sale on the dark web after a successful ransomware attack. A little over a month earlier Maze operators hit Chubb, a cybersecurity insurance provider for businesses that fall for data breaches. According to CRN, the Maze group just recently stole 100 GB of files from Xerox.

However, there are actions that consumers and businesses can take to reduce their chances of an attack:

  • Consumers should use reputable antivirus software and a firewall
  • People should consider using a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing public Wi-Fi or untrusted Wi-Fi
  • Consumers and businesses are both encouraged to make sure all systems and software are up-to-date and have the relevant patches
  • People should not provide any personal information in an email, phone call or text message they are not expecting
  • It is important that consumers do not click on any links from emails, text messages or instant messages they are not expecting; instead, they should go directly to the source

The Maze ransomware has impacted many; businesses and consumers should do what they can to protect themselves and their data.

Anyone who has questions or believes they are a victim of a Maze ransomware attack, or any sort of malware attack, can live-chat with an Identity Theft Resource Center expert advisor for tips.

They can also call toll-free at 888.400.5530. Finally, victims can download the free ID Theft Help App for instant access to advisors and resources.


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A recent Google Alert scam has caught the attention of many. Google Alerts recently caught fraudsters trying to push fake data breach notifications for big-name companies in an effort to distribute malware and damage people’s computer networks. According to Bleeping Computer, fraudsters have been mixing black-hat SEO, Google sites and spam pages to direct users to dangerous locations based on data breach information.

Google Alerts is designed to send notifications to people who sign up for specific keywords monitoring and provide search results. As part of this Google Alert scam, fraudsters were able to create pages and use compromising websites to combine “data breach” with well-known brands. Bleeping Computer reports that some of those well-known brands include Chegg, Canva, EA, Dropbox, Hulu, Shein, Ceridian, PayPalTarget, Hautelook, Mojang, InterContinental Hotel Group and Houzz.

In the Google Alerts, fraudsters offer giveaways and download offers, which leads to the dangerous malware. The threat actors are also believed to have used the Google Sites tool to build webpages to host their content. Bleeping Computer says they found that the scammers were pushing unwanted search-related extensions. As part of the Google Alert scam, malicious links were also believed to be sent to people with an iPhone 11 device for a fake giveaway. It claimed to be set up by Google as part of a “Membership Rewards Program” and the offer said the gift was “exclusively and only for Verizon Fios users.” Users had to fill out a survey, allowing scammers to get their money. Browser extension scams can pose a risk to browsing privacy because malware can be used as part of this method.

Consumers who use Google Alerts should be aware of this particular scam; going directly to the source (the purported breached entity) instead of clicking on an unknown link. The Identity Theft Resource Center has been tracking publicly-notified data breaches since 2005 and has the most comprehensive and the most readily available data breach information for publicly-notified breaches. For any consumer that wants to fact check about the latest information regarding a publicly reported breach is encouraged to access our resources to confirm any new circumstances. Consumers can sign up for the monthly data breach newsletter, as well as view monthly and yearly data breach reports. They can also receive a “risk score” on what their true concerns should be by visiting Breach Clarity and entering the particular breach on which they would like information. Anyone who believes they might have fallen victim to a Google Alert scam can live-chat with an ITRC expert advisor, or can call toll-free at 888.400.5530. They can also download the free ID Theft Help App. The app will provide consumers and victims access to advisors, resources, a case log to track their steps and much more.


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Malware is a growing threat, one that can impact everyone from a casual computer user to a Fortune 500 company. More than just a virus, malware is more like a catch-all term for any kind of malicious software that can infect a computer and be used for harm. Now, thanks to a new Swiss initiative and a team of volunteers, cybercriminals have a little less leverage for attacking computers.

The project, URLHaus, relied on volunteers within the cybersecurity company to seek out websites that distribute malware. These websites can infect your computer even if you don’t engage or if you visited by mistake, and it’s a common tactic that hackers use when they get you to fall for a phishing attempt. More than 100,000 of these websites have been identified and taken down in the last ten months.

A malicious website is just one of many different avenues for infecting your computer, but it’s a widely used method of attack. When a scammer sends out a phishing email that spoofs a known company, for example, the link within the email will often take the victim to a harmful website where the malware infection takes place. Common phishing emails include copycat messages from your bank telling you there’s a problem with your account, fake emails from known retailers like Amazon or PayPal, requests to verify your identity or account information, and many other believable messages.

Scammers can also use social media to get their victims to visit a harmful website. Private messages that appear to come from someone you know, telling you to click here to get this incredible deal or see these unbelievable pictures they found of you, for example, are widespread. Of course, actually paid ads for interesting products and fantastic sales can also redirect users to a fake website.

Once you visit the website and interact with it, the malware is installed on your computer or mobile device. It might be ransomware that locks up your computer, spyware or adware that tracks your online activity, a keylogger that steals everything you type (including account logins), and more.

So how does the cybersecurity industry fight back? One website at a time, which is why the project and its volunteers are so crucial to protecting tech users. Unfortunately, finding these websites scattered across the vast world wide web is a slow and tedious process; of course, getting the companies who host the sites to take them down can take even longer, about an average of eight days from the date of notification.

While the volunteers continue this vital work, the next step for URLHaus is to help those web hosting companies take action more immediately. Some companies respond within a day, while others take as long as a month. The bigger the company and the more customers they have hosting websites through their platform, the longer it can take to investigate a site that’s been reported.

In the meantime, there are some behaviors that tech users can deploy that will help them avoid some of these sites…

1. Never click a link in an email, text message, or social media message unless you’ve verified it with the sender; don’t just trust that you know the sender, either, since accounts can be hacked or copycatted.

2. Avoid clicking on ads in social media posts unless you can explicitly trust the company and the link. When in doubt, simply do a quick internet search for the product and the seller in order to look at the item more closely.

3. Most important of all, make sure you have a reputable security suite installed and updated. Antivirus software isn’t enough anymore, not with so many different threats out there. A lot of great software developers even offer their products at “freemium” pricing, which means there’s a price plan for every budget. There’s literally no excuse to not protect your tech.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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