Online fraud has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. According to the Insurance Information Institute, from 2017-2021, fraud complaints and identity theft have increased 96.86%. In 2021, 876,000 frauds were reported to the FBI. The costs to businesses are in the hundred of millions of dollars. The average loss reported by individuals in the US amounted to $6,359 in 2020. While law enforcement agencies and private sector companies are working hard to protect, prevent and prosecute, the Toronto Private Investigators at Haywood Hunt & Associates Inc. have provided you with some basic steps that you can take to protect and prevent yourself from being a victim.
- The first steps to protecting yourself from online fraud are awareness and knowledge. Acknowledge that each time you use one of your devices, you are at risk. Knowledge is gained by conducting your own research reviewing articles from trusted sources. Take time to read about online scams, fraudulent sites, and how to avoid identity theft. Sure, it is something we hear about, but it is not a topic many of us understand enough to keep ourselves safe. Learning about the various frauds, the types of ways you could be targeted, and the dangers of what might happen should you become a victim, will help you know what type of content to avoid. One of the most prominent scams these days comes from someone pretending to be a trusted source, like a bank or streaming service, sending you a fake link to click. Just knowing that this happens would cause you to take extra steps to verify the legitimacy and may prevent you from falling victim to this scam.
- Installing an ad blocker to your browser is another way you can protect yourself online. An ad blocker hides most ads that appear on webpages. Not only does it make the web browsing experience better – you don’t have pop ups or annoying videos appearing on your screen – but it can also help keep you safe. Some ads lead you to a seemingly safe page that is set up to capture your data once you have it entered. With an ad blocker you eliminate the risk of many fraudulent websites being one intentional or accidental click away. Also keep in mind, ad blockers keep you safe because some ads collect your data simply by being present on the page.
- Keep social media accounts private to safeguard yourself against identity theft and doxing attacks. With a public social media account, anyone can access the content you put out: a picture of you outside your school, video clips from vacations, or posts about a topic you are passionate about. Each one of these may seem harmless, but to someone trying to steal your identity, it might as well be a biography of your life. The amount of information you share, even unintentionally, through social media is astounding, but one of the best ways to keep people you don’t know from seeing it all is to make your page private. On top of this, going through privacy settings to remove location tags and other features that are on by default will help keep you safe from online identity theft. Recently, a rumor spread that an iOS update would allow people to see your precise location through Instagram. While this turned out to be untrue, it created a slight panic across the platform. This raises the question: why would someone so worried about their location being discovered through an app publicly post images containing information about their location? The short answer is don’t!
- Deleting cache and cookies regularly can keep you safe from a potential hack. For convenience many people allow web browsers to save information such as passwords and credit cards and/or automatically accept all cookies. This, however, could set you up for a multitude of problems. If someone hacks (or steals) your device, having your passwords and/or credit card information saved on your device is like leaving the key to your house underneath your welcome mat. With everyday websites asking us to accept or decline cookies, we are all so inclined to hit accept all and move on. But taking the time to choose only the essential ones and deleting them after could save your data. Accepting third party cookies also puts data at risk as the website’s owner may sell that data to someone with malicious intent.
- Creating a strong password and setting up multi-factor authentication will stop almost all thieves from accessing your personal and financial information. It is basic advice that you are often prompted to take, but it is one of the best, simplest steps for staying safe online. And make sure your passwords are drastically different; if the only difference is one number at the end, all it takes is nine tries to get it right. If you worry you may forget the passwords, one technique is to use four completely random words, plus the necessary characters should the website require it. It is far easier for the human brain to correlate and remember four random words than a shorter series of characters. For a computer program even making a billion guesses per second however, it could take months to correctly get the string of four words. If you have taken the time to set up a strong password and multi-authentication, make sure you do not share your password. Keep the information stored somewhere offline that is safe.
If you do find yourself a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact the police as soon as possible and retain the services of an experienced fraud lawyer in Toronto like Calvin Barry. You might be embarrassed, but it may be the only way to recover your funds or your identity.