Almost everything we need to do can be done online, and while it’s extremely convenient to have the world at your fingertips, it also makes us more vulnerable to hackers.
While cybersecurity should always be top of mind for consumers, the pandemic, upcoming election and social unrest in the U.S. has certainly brought it to the forefront. Cyber criminals are using this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to take advantage of individuals who may be distracted, unfamiliar with technology or in a generally more vulnerable state due to these unprecedented times. As more people continue to increase their use of online shopping or services, work from home or have kids attending virtual school, they are exposing themselves more to the online risks —whether they want to or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world it’s not a matter of if an individual will become a victim, but when, so making yourself a harder target to scammers is key. It’s important to understand the potential threats and do your part to stay informed.
So, what can you do to help protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming a victim of cybercrime?
• Be skeptical. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Research online (the Federal Trade Commission and USA.gov scams and frauds websites are particularly valuable resources) to see if others have experienced a potential scam situation that you have before acting on it. It’s okay to question everything.
• Take care of each other. There are many people who are newer to the digital space and may be particularly vulnerable due to their lack of experience with or previous access to technology. Sadly, older adults are a standard target for scammers who prey on their emotions by impersonating someone’s child or grandchild or those in authority positions. In addition, children who are in virtual school settings may not be alert to potential threats. Make sure the loved ones in your life are aware of scams and know not to fall for them.
• Don’t use personal information as your password. In addition to changing your password, avoid using personal information like a pet’s name or school mascot as your password. Professional hackers and social engineers can easily find this information from your online history and social media platforms.
• Change your passwords frequently. People tend to reuse their passwords for different accounts and rarely change them. Experts recommend changing your password every three months—and not just by a single number or letter. Complex passwords are a critical layer between you and a cybercriminal.
• Don’t fall for phishing scams. Businesses like banks, internet providers and mortgage companies will never ask you to confirm or share your personal or financial information online. If you receive a message pretending to be a provider, delete it and report it immediately.
• Set up financial alerts. Enroll in text message and email alerts that you can receive when a large or unusual purchase has been made on your credit card.
• Monitor your credit score. As we approach 2021, the end of the year is a great time to check your free credit report for potential purchases impacting your personal financial data.
• Take advantage of free or low cost security tools. Free or low cost tools like Jumbo are available that scan your social media platforms and the dark web to see if your data has been part of a breach and help you reduce your data footprint. Other tools like password safes that help you manage unique, complex passwords and antivirus for your mobile device are also good investments in your cybersecurity arsenal.
By implementing these tips and being an informed digital user, you are decreasing the likelihood of becoming a victim—but keep in mind that while we have to strive to do right 100% of the time—a scammer only has to be right once for you to be exposed. The important thing is to make yourself difficult to bait and do your part to help yourself and those around you stay as safe as possible.
Sara Flores serves as senior vice president and chief information security officer for UMB Financial Corporation, overseeing UMB’s information security and privacy programs.