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Cybersecurity: Helpful Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

June 16, 2020

Cybercrime doesn’t just entail thieves hacking into retailer databases to steal credit card numbers or commandeering corporate secrets, individuals are also frequently targeted.

As our routines have changed and people have started to look for ways to help, scams are on the rise.  Criminals are leveraging COVID-19 and the state of our world to gain access to your personal information. In fact, as of April 15, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had received more than 18,000 complaints of COVID-19-related scams, with reported losses totaling $13.44 million. (You can read more about specific COVID-19 scams here.)

The issue is only accelerating as people continue to work from home, often conducting business on home networks that are not as secure as those used at their workplace.

Even though you might be familiar with the basics, it is important to double-check and make sure you have done everything you can to prevent identity theft and fraud.

Here are some basic reminders:

1. Review the strength of your passwords.

You have likely heard this advice multiple times, but it warrants repeating, especially as we frequently reset passwords and might get complacent. In fact, consumers are still using easy-to-hack passwords, like “123456” or “password,” despite the publicity surrounding the dangers of an obvious password. Some experts suggest using three “random but memorable” words to create unique passwords that are still easy to remember. Also, it is important to avoid using the same password on all websites or programs.

2. Beware of “phishing” scams.

These are fake emails that appear to come from a credible organization. For example, they can be designed to look like they are coming from a financial institution (see bullet #3), cable provider, phone company, or retail organization, among others. Sometimes they come from an individual with a vague name that sounds like someone you might know, with a message similar to, “Could you check this Google Doc for me?” The phrasing is so casual that you may think, “huh, what is this document?” and click on the link. No matter what the ruse, the email contains a link that takes you to another site either installs malware on your computer where a hacker can then seize the information they want, or asks you to provide personal information directly on the website. In the past, these emails looked unprofessional and were full of misspellings or grammar errors, but the senders have cleaned up their act, making it much harder to quickly identify. The best way to avoid this is to never click on a link in any unexpected email you receive. You can also see if the sender is legitimate by “hovering” your cursor over the sender’s email to reveal a genuine email.

3. Be especially wary of anyone requesting your banking information.

One fraudulent situation that can be especially destructive is when criminals make calls or send emails that appear to be from a financial institution. The call or email appears to come from a trusted sender, like your credit card issuer or financial institution, then the scammer asks you to verify your account information. Please be aware Valley Strong will never call or email you and ask for your account information. If you ever receive an email or call that appears legitimate, reach out to us directly so we can verify your information and confirm or deny the contact came from us. Be sure to look up the number on our website or your account statement, and do not call a number in an email as it could be part of the scheme. When you initiate the call, you can be sure you are reaching someone at Valley Strong who can help you.

4. Back up your information.

Cyberattacks can play out a couple different ways, sometimes the hackers may ask for a ransom before giving you control of your computer or data, other times the malware you accidently installed can compromise your files. That’s why it is smart to have your information backed up to the cloud. Here are some tips from Microsoft and Apple on how to back up your computer. You can also search for a cloud-based service that will essentially copy your computer’s data every night so you can access it as needed.

While having your information backed up will not prevent the crime, it can limit the damage since you have another way to retrieve important information and files.

5. Review your credit report.

Sometimes you might not even know that your identity has been breached until the hackers have opened numerous credit cards or otherwise wreaked havoc on your finances. That is why it is important to regularly check your credit. One service to try is AnnualCreditReport.com, which is now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021.

6. Remember that cyber fraud is not your fault.

Should you fall victim to a scam, it can be hard to admit. We often feel as though we “should have known better.” And while everyone does their best to be vigilant, the fact is cyber fraud can impact anyone. Believe it or not, technologically savvy millennials are actually more likely to report they have been victim of fraud than other age groups, finds the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). So if you think you have been a victim, do not hesitate to take quick steps to limit the damage by reviewing all of your accounts, changing your passwords and watching your credit carefully.

Wondering if you have been a victim of cybersecurity with your Valley Strong account? Contact us today, and we can help you determine the next appropriate steps to safeguard your account.