One of the most serious consequences of the coronavirus outbreak has been a sharp rise in insecurity. Identity theft and fraud have unfortunately increased as a result of our increased emphasis on public health, economy, and our personal well-being, as fraudsters strive to take advantage of the situation.
Scammers take advantage of any opportunities presented, including the COVID-19 pandemic. And repeated data violations may have already exposed your personal information. In this modern environment, it is wise to take steps to avoid unscrupulous actors abusing your personal information and destroying your financial life.
Pandemic provides massive opportunity to cybercriminals
The number of identity theft instances reported to the FTC where victims said their information was used to apply for or obtain government benefits, such as unemployment benefits, climbed by 2.920 percent year over year. The pattern of the trillion dollars disbursed under COVID-19 relief is arguably the most concerning.
The findings can be seen in the FTC 2020 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. The 4.7 million total customer complaints are classified into one of three categories, which are identity theft, fraud, or both.
A recent study from the Identity Theft Resource Center includes a special focus on victims of pandemic-related identity fraud, which gives us some of the following statistics:
- 33% of people said they couldn’t afford to buy food or pay for utilities because they didn’t have enough money.
- 40% of those who were unable to pay their regular rates.
- 14% of individuals who have been evicted due to non-payment of rent or mortgage.
- 54% said they felt violated as a result of their identities being misused.
With so much chaos occurring during the pandemic, and new incentives and motivations for cybercriminals to try and steal personal data, observing some simple safety measurements can go a long way in giving you better identity theft prevention.
Update your software and use sandbox modes if you aren’t sure
Your operating system is full of security holes, even though Microsoft and Apple constantly roll out little security updates. They can’t account for everything, especially with how other software can interact with the operating system framework.
For example, Windows typically requires programs to be run in Administrator Mode if they require access to important system files. But many people just grant admin privileges to all kinds of software installations, and this isn’t a good practice for system administration.
It’s a good idea to always use the admin account on your computer, and only use it when absolutely necessary. Allow security updates to automatically download and install, even if it’s somewhat inconvenient, like the computer asks to reboot in the middle of your Netflix binge.
For programs that request administrator mode to run, try keeping them contained in a sandbox environment, like one offered by a reputable antivirus software.
Do security checks on your identity and passwords
With so many data breaches and online data dumps, customers typically don’t realize their social security numbers, addresses, and other personal information until it’s too late.
You may use services like HaveIBeenPwned.com to quickly check if any of your emails or passwords are included in known data leaks.
Also pay attention to Google’s security suite, which you can access on your Google account dashboard. While I advise against storing passwords in your browser, Google can alert you to bad password habits such as if you’ve used the same password for multiple websites.
Stay updated on the latest data breaches
Many websites provide the most up-to-date information about data breaches, and many of them offer RSS feeds. Websites like the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Hacker News fall under this category.
Many businesses, on the other hand, have a poor track record of disclosing breaches, leaving their customers vulnerable for lengthy periods of time while they think of a PR letter to explain. This does you, the consumer, absolutely no favours.
You should know about data breaches before the companies are “ready” to tell you, and that means staying informed on hacker and cybersecurity news from those in the know.
Don’t Be Fooled by Scammers
A common telephone scam that people still fall for is fake technical support. These scammers will contact you by phone, claiming to be representatives of your internet company, and they need to urgently walk you through some non-existent problem.
These made-up stories can involve things like they need remote access to control your PC, your router password (which they could reset remotely if they were really tech agents), a virus on their network has been traced to your computer and they need to remove it asap, etc.
Just hang up.
Be Vigilant During Tax Time
If you get a purported IRS email requesting personal or financial details, remove it or report it for inquiry to the official IRS anti-fraud team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if the email contained official IRS logos and links to the IRS website, those are just distractions.
The IRS would never communicate with you via email about passwords and pins and other such sensitive information.