Worry about cybercrime? You’re not alone

Nearly a quarter of Americans were victims of cybercrime last year, according to Gallup’s 2018 crime survey data. Survey respondents were more likely to say a household member has had their personal, credit card, or financial information stolen by computer hackers, than report being victimized by any of eight other forms of criminal activity. Nearly a quarter of Americans — 23 percent — say that they or someone in their household fell victim to this type of cybercrime in 2018, down just slightly from the 25 percent who reported being targeted in 2017.

Gallup has previously found that Americans are more concerned about falling victim to cybercrime or identity theft than any other forms of criminal activity. Seventy-one percent of Americans worry about cybercrime and 67 percent about identity theft. The public’s level of worry about these two types of crimes is substantially higher than worry about any other type of criminal activity and, based on their reported levels of victimization, is justified. This is confirmed by federal law enforcement reports, which indicate there were 2.7 million victims of identity theft and fraud in 2017 alone, and 30 percent of U.S. consumers were affected by data breaches last year, as well.

March 5–9 is National Consumer Protection Week, so it’s a great time to review some steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a cybercrime victim. ​

Step up your password game

Many people use the same password for multiple accounts, which means that if your credentials are stolen for one account, then all your accounts are in jeopardy. Do you really want to give criminals access to your bank account because you used the same credentials for your free online music account? It also helps to use very strong passwords on all of your accounts (especially if you still use the same password in multiple places). Do not use your name, birthday, or pet's name, as this information is readily available to many people, especially if you post it on social media. The best passwords are often derived from an entire phrase, rather than a single word, and incorporate letters, numbers, and special characters. For example, the song lyric, “Don’t worry, be happy,” can be transformed into this password: d0ntwry_Bhpy.

Beware of phishing scams

The dangerous thing about phishing scams is they don’t rely on weak website or network security. Instead, they attempt to crack the human firewall: you. Phishing scams attempt to obtain personal information or plant a virus or malware on your device by sending a fake email requesting that information, or instructing the recipient to click a link in order to reset their account. Never give out your personal information over the internet, phone, or via text message unless you know exactly who you’re dealing with. If you receive a suspicious email from a business or charity and you’re not sure if it’s legitimate, close the email, open a new browser, visit their official website, and contact them through their customer service. If you didn’t initiate contact, it’s always best to be suspicious.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi to buy

Shopping online may be convenient — especially during the holiday season, when shoppers pack into the mall like sardines — but when you shop online, keep in mind that any purchases made via the web require transmitting your credit card and/or bank account information over the internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture your information. If you’re using a wireless connection to shop, be sure that it requires a password or WEP key. Websites that have additional security protections have https:// instead of http:// on all pages of the site, so watch for that, as well.

Rose Oswald Poels is president/CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, the state’s largest financial industry trade association.

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