It is impossible to put a price on the safety of your family, assets and reputation. But with the growing reliance on the online world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain protected from cyber criminals. According to the 2011 Identity Survey Report conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, 8.1 million people were victims of identity fraud in the United States in 2010.
Even if your online activity is limited to e-mail and corresponding with family and friends on social media sites, the risk of identity fraud is ever-present. Your children and grandchildren unknowingly could be putting you at risk as a result of their online activities, says Stephen Locke, senior vice president of security technology and operations for Northern Trust.
“[Younger generations] are very transparent these days on social media sites,” he says. “Like a tattoo, your digital identity doesn’t go away very easily. Once you start sharing views and information on public forums, that information will live with you for the rest of your life.”
Your family office, too, could put you at risk. According to an Alliance Security Council article, “Foreign Cyber Thieves Stalk U.S. Family Offices,”cyber thieves and foreign groups increasingly are targeting American family offices. Family offices may be less likely to take proper security measures, assuming that their low public profile will keep them from being targeted.
Fortunately, you can take steps to educate yourself and your family about smart online behaviors. From changing passwords to conducting full-scale security updates, taking necessary precautions is the first step to protecting yourself online.
Use Common-Sense Practices
Locke says most cases of online identity fraud begin with simply opening an e-mail or clicking on a link within an e-mail. “If a stranger walks up to you asking questions, are you really going to start a conversation?” he asks. “It’s the same thing online. Ignoring an unknown e-mail isn’t rude; it’s being assertive. If you go to malicious Web sites, it can download [dangerous] code to your computer.”
To further complicate matters, many online criminals have perfected copying the graphics of trusted companies, making e-mails look official and therefore trustworthy.
Locke suggests developing cyber senses, or adopting the same common senses of the physical world when sharing information online. “The pain associated with cyber attacks isn’t apparent until months later,” he says. “There’s this implied safety and anonymity associated with being on the Web. But the damage is the same and far lasting, because it’s saved all over the world.”
Ensuring firewalls and virus protection software are up to date can help in the event that you open a fraudulent e-mail or click on an unsafe link in an e-mail.
Also keep in mind that major companies will not conduct business via e-mail. Therefore, do not feel compelled to open a message from an unknown sender with an intriguing subject line.
Locke warns against clients conducting any official business via e-mail. “You are creating a huge risk for yourself, as it isn’t guaranteed delivery or security, and there is no way to verify that the person is really who you think,” he says. Instead, handle business transactions directly or use your financial institution’s secure, private network.
Stay Private on Social Media
Between Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of other services, social networking use has doubled since 2007. According to a 2011 survey from Web analytics firm comScore, the average online user in the United States now spends nearly 16% of his or her time on social networking sites.
But the more personal details posted on the Internet, the easier it is for someone else to use them. Locke says online “over-sharing” has become a serious issue with younger generations. If a fraudster discovers personal details about you, he or she easily can start a conversation with one of your social media or e-mail contacts to learn more. In other words, if a Facebook user openly posts information about his or her personal interests, weekend trips or hobbies, a fraudster could use that information to contact one of the user’s friends to gain more valuable knowledge – ultimately tricking the friend into believing he or she is a friend, too.
To mitigate this risk, set expectations for children and grandchildren. “As parents and grandparents, you have the responsibility to protect your children [online],” Locke says. “Encourage them not to share information such as home location, vacations and photos with people who aren’t their friends,” he says. Privacy settings are a common but effective feature on social media sites. It’s easy to set restrictions for the public. Certain pieces of information, like phone numbers and addresses, shouldn’t be posted on social media sites at all, even on nonpublic pages.
Secure Online Transactions
Conducting online transactions with credit cards or debit cards also can put you at risk. Fraudsters may obtain your card information and try to pay for transactions using your debit or credit card. Protect yourself by watching your credit score and setting up alerts when your credit changes unexpectedly – a good indication that fraudulent activity is occurring.
Locke also urges online users to change their passwords frequently, in addition to not sharing passwords with anyone.
Protect Your Online Identity With Physical Security
Online information cannot be fully protected without a good physical perimeter, Locke says. “Be extremely careful when having people come into your home for work,” he adds.
In fact, in 41% of identity theft cases, the victim knows the thief, according to the Alliance Security Council.
Locke suggests keeping computers logged out and ensuring documents are password-protected and locked.
He adds, “If you have a break in, notify your financial institution. Don’t think that just because your home or office has been broken into that they didn’t get into your computer, too.”
But above all, remember that criminals haven’t changed; they have just changed the tools they use. “Criminals have all the time in the world to wait for you to make a mistake,” Locke says.