Take Steps to Protect Yourself from Data Thieves

If only the effort expended on hacking personal, corporate, and government computers were put toward good, our world would be a much better place.

Alas, though we cannot correct the motivations of evil actors, we can advise you on steps to take now to tighten your security systems, secure your assets, and protect your financial future.

Identity thieves continue to find new ways to steal information from their victims. Look no further than Jennifer Lawrence’s photos stolen from the cloud, the Sony Pictures hack, or even the recent leak of embarrassing texts between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his paramour. On the dark web, a part of the Internet only accessible via special software, criminals sell personal information ranging from Social Security numbers to social media login credentials – sometimes for as little as $3 apiece – to hackers who hope to use this information to steal a victim’s identity.

Other identity thieves make fraudulent calls with the help of a prerecorded message asking recipients to deliver personal information to the scammer directly through a variety of tricks, including accusing an older victim of wrongdoing and threatening to cut off benefits unless the victim provides personal information, such as a Social Security number. One fake tech support scheme involves a call from a scammer claiming to be from Apple, who requests passwords and payment information. Another scarily clever scam comes from a fraudster claiming to be from AT&T; the scammer says they have sent a code to your mobile phone and asks you to read it to them. At the same time, the fraudster has just reset your password using the (legitimate) mobile phone code.

Another scam, called typosquatting, happens when a hacker creates a fake website address that’s hard to notice, such as replacing the letters “r” and “n” for the letter “m.” Mistyping a web address may bring you to one of these sites. The same can be done with email addresses (listen to the Reply All podcast episode “What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?”). Anytime you are asked to provide sensitive information you have a right to be wary. The best practice is to only provide such information on calls you make yourself.

To avoid becoming an identity theft victim, here are some tips to protect yourself from fraudulent callers:

  • Register your number on the Federal Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov).
  • Be very wary about providing sensitive information over the phone, especially to people who call you or you don’t really know.
  • Enable spam call-blocking services offered by your carrier.

Protecting yourself from virtual data thieves is a little trickier, but it is possible using these tools:

  • Set up your email and website accounts with two-factor authentication (2FA). Our clients can set up 2FA at Schwab by contacting Schwab Alliance at (800) 515-2157. For 2FA at Tamarac Reporting, just let us know and we’ll set it up for you.
  • Create complex passwords and avoid reusing the same passwords on multiple sites.
  • Register for an account with the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, so criminals cannot do so in your name.

Awareness of identity theft risk may prevent you and your family from having to spend hundreds–or even thousands–of dollars and countless hours rectifying damage done by a fraudster, not to mention all of the grief that comes with having your identity stolen.