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For years, security experts and advocates have warned consumers about suspicious websites, specifically ones that take your sensitive information or payments. The best course of action? To look for the HTTPS designation in the web address at the top of the screen and the little padlock icon, both of which indicate a site can be trusted.

Unfortunately, scammers continue to evolve their ways to continue victimizing the public through technology. A new report has found that about 49% of known phishing websites—websites that steal your information after tricking you into submitting it—contain a secure designation and a little green padlock. The “look for the lock” advice that was once a sound way to protect yourself is a little less reliable than before.

Just as scammers have evolved, now it’s up to consumers to make some changes in order to protect themselves from the latest threats:

1. Install a security suite that offers anti-phishing and website security

A basic antivirus isn’t enough to keep you safe anymore, and a number of well-known security software developers have incorporated a lot of extra features. Some can alert you to a fake website or known scammer before you compromise your information. Even better, many security programs offer a wide range of subscription prices—even free plans—so there’s something to meet every budget.

2. Establish a throwaway email address

Some sites want nothing more than your email address so they can sell it to spammers. Generate a free email address that is separate from your everyday, commonly used one. Then, whenever you’re visiting websites that want your email address, you have the option to trust the site with your contact information or use your backup email address.

3. Designate a payment card for internet purchases

The last thing you need is for a phishing website to steal your money, but it happens. By intentionally having an “internet only” credit card that is not connected to your bank account and that has a very low credit limit, you may have an easier time protecting yourself from someone who steals your information.

The most important thing you can do is to remember that what was once considered top-notch security advice can change as new technology and new developments occur. It’s not enough to develop a good habit and never deviate from it. Instead, you need to stay informed by following ongoing coverage of the latest scams and frauds.

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.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert

If you follow tech news, you may still get shivers up your spine from the buzz surrounding one of the most dangerous ransomware attacks in recent history. The May 2017 WannaCry attack made headlines for months due to the high volume of victims and the high-profile companies who were targeted. Within a short time, this self-replicating cryptoworm had infected more than 300,000 computers, locking up their systems and demanding payment from the victims in the form of Bitcoin.

As with all headlines, though, the story can fade fast when other news takes its place. And just like most other news stories, that doesn’t mean this one is gone just because people aren’t talking about it.

In fact, antivirus and security suite developer Kaspersky Lab issued recent findings that more than 75,000 new cases of WannaCry infections were discovered between July and September of 2018. Yes, only a couple of months ago, new victims were suffering from a well-known form of ransomware and having to decide whether or not to pay the criminals in order to regain access to their computers.

One of the major issues surrounding WannaCry is that a patch was available for it even before the initial attack. Consumers and businesses who were using older computers or older operating systems may have been more vulnerable, along with individuals who haven’t been installing recommended updates regularly.

Another issue some victims faced was not having a strong, up-to-date security suite with antivirus and anti-malware protection. A number of large-scale data breaches have been traced back to inadequate protection for a computer or network, and in some cases, the original victim was not the major corporation who was ultimately the target.

One of the best courses of action against WannaCry or any other form of ransomware is to create scheduled, automatic backups of all your files. These backups can be stored in a cloud-based subscription or an external storage device, and they’ll mean you can still access all of your files if someone targets your system. Paying the ransom might be cheaper than a new computer—the typical WannaCry ransom was $300, but other ransomware attacks have demanded more—but there’s no guarantee the hackers will release your files upon payment. That money can be put towards newer equipment instead of lining a cyberthief’s pockets.

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.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert

If you’ve used the internet for any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve received plenty of phishing emails. Nigerian prince emails, foreign lottery winner emails and even “if you don’t pay the ransom, you’ll never see your son again” emails, all of which are designed to get you to hand over your identifying information, your money or both.

But now that phishing emails so widely recognized for the scams they are, savvy thieves have a new trick up their sleeves: phishing websites. How do these work? They masquerade as the real deal, tricking you into entering your credit card info, downloading a harmful software, filling out the registration form with your sensitive data or some other similar tactic.

Try this example: You head over to Amaz0n.com or PayPaI (notice the zero instead of an O and a capital letter I instead of a lowercase l) and enter all of your information, update your payment information or bank account, verify your account identity or some other mechanism for stealing from you. You never knew you weren’t on the correct site and the scammers stole everything.

“But I’m never going to type A M A Z (zero) N,” you might be thinking, and you’re probably correct. The hackers know that too, so that’s not how they target you. Instead, they get you to click a link in an email, a social media post or ad, a text message, or some other form of communication. You see what you think is an email from Amazon, either offering you some incredible deal or telling you there’s a problem with your recent order, and you click the link provided in the very professional-looking message. The link redirects to a fake website, though, even though the email domain name and the web address look close enough to the real thing to fool anyone who isn’t paying attention.

Fortunately, avoiding fake websites is almost as easy as ignoring those pleas for help from deposed Nigerian royalty.

  1. Develop the habit of NEVER verifying your identity or account information to someone who contacts you. Whether it’s by phone, email or a website, do not click or enter any personal data or payment details if you didn’t type in the web address yourself. If you think there could actually be a problem due to a message you received, get out of that message altogether and go to the website yourself, typing in the web address (you know, to avoid typing a zero instead of a letter O!).
  2. Check the website designation before doing anything. Even if you’re shopping on your favorite retail site or uploading photos to your favorite social media platform, give a quick glance at the top of the screen. Secure sites will have an HTTPS designation before the “Amazon.com” instead of HTTP. If the S is missing, your data should be missing, too!
  3. Check with the entity directly. Most major websites have had copycats steal their logos and try to convince unsuspecting users to click over to the fake site. Amazon and PayPal are just two common ones, but iTunes, Facebook, Citibank and other major financial providers, and other highly visible names also have similar fake sites.

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.

The high-tech world of hacking means the bad guys have a lot of digital tools at their fingertips. Now more than ever, the automation behind stealing your account access means consumers need to practice the strongest password security they can.

Unfortunately, some consumers have continued to ignore years of expert warnings when it comes to password strength. SplashData, who publishes the annual list of the most commonly used passwords as compiled from leaked credentials, found that in 2017, “123456” was still the world’s most common password. That was followed by “Password,” “12345678” (thanks to websites that are trying to protect their users by requiring longer passwords), “qwerty,” and others, such as “admin” and “letmein.”

“But ‘password’ is so obvious that no hacker would ever think I’d use that… right?” Sadly, that’s not how credential cracking works.

The term credential cracking refers to the systematic, automated breaking of your username and password with the use of high-speed bots. Following a large-scale data breach, a hacker simply uses a large database of usernames and allows the computer to “guess” the passwords for each one. Some credential cracking software can make billions of guesses per second.

In short, no one is sitting at a computer with your username, typing in guess after guess until they reach your password. Their software does it for them and it does it with fairly strong results. There has even been a reported uptick in the numbers of failed login attempts on major consumer websites following large-scale data breaches, indicating that hackers are using the stolen information and their bots to “guess” passwords.

As bad as this development is, it’s not the only bad news. If you’re one of the many consumers who reuses passwords, any cracked credentials that a hacker has on you can lead them right to your other accounts. Using stolen information and cracking tools to guess your email or social media login, for example, would also give the hacker access to your Amazon, PayPal, online banking or other sensitive accounts if you’re reusing your password.

In order to fight back against this high-tech break-in, your account passwords must be strong and unique. Lengthy strings of uppercase and lowercase letters (that do NOT spell a word!) combined with some non-sequential numbers and symbols can help ward off even the most devoted little bot. Using that password on only one account is crucial to preventing multiple accounts from coming under attack.


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.

Peer-to-peer payment apps, or P2P apps, are a convenient way to share funds with people. It might be a friend who bought those Taylor Swift concert tickets for your kid’s birthday present on your behalf, someone who owes you money for picking up the tab at lunch last week, or even a way to conduct business transactions like selling a piece of furniture or handmade crafts. One of the increasingly popular uses for P2P apps is when multiple people have to “chip in” to pay for a single item, like a hotel room, cruise ship cabin, or baby shower gift for a co-worker.

Though convenient, P2P platforms have been scrutinized for their potential security concerns. As a platform that is connected to some type of payment account, they’re a golden ticket for hackers. When you create your account on a P2P site, you will link a credit card, debit card, or bank account in order to deposit and withdraw funds; if a hacker gains access to your P2P account, they have access to a more serious form of your finances.

If you plan to take advantage of this handy payment method, you’ve got to use some precautions. The very first is your password security, which is always a good idea. Whether it’s an app account, your email account, or any other online portal, a strong and unique password is a must. A strong password contains a lengthy combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, typically between eight and twelve characters in length. A unique password means that you don’t use it on other sites, no matter how tempting that may be.

Once your account is secured with a strong, unique password, it’s important to monitor all activity in case someone still manages to get in. You can set up transaction alerts to let you know right away if your account has been used, and you can schedule some time to log in and take a quick look each week. If you see activity that you don’t recognize, report it immediately.  Deposits you weren’t expecting, not just withdrawals or purchases, can still be a sign that someone is in your account.


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.