Canadians are an attractive and potentially lucrative target for cyber fraud, which accounts for 54 percent of all police-reported cyber-criminal activity in the country according to Statistics Canada. The anonymous nature of the internet ensures the vast majority of criminals who commit cyber fraud are never caught. Even something as simple as an unsolicited text message represents a risk. In fact, Statistics Canada indicates an accused is only identified in 5 percent of fraud cases, and just 3 percent of cases of identity theft.
Recently, Canadians across the country have received deceptive text messages claiming to be from a government agency, service provider, bank, or other business. These messages may contain dangerous attachments, request personal information, or even offer employment. Among the costliest are wire fraud, online dating scams, and identity theft.
Last year, according to a Global News report, Canadians lost at least $90 million to these and similar scams.
Prevention is critical and you must take precautionary steps to minimize your risk of this potentially devastating crime. Although it may not be possible to fully protect your online information, these measures will make you a less attractive and far more difficult target for anyone wishing to steal your information, money, or even identity.
Step 1: Adopt smart social media practices.
Depending on your privacy settings, anyone may be able to access your social media profiles – for example, Facebook or Twitter – and learn a great deal of personal information about you. There could be enough information on your Facebook profile right now for a criminal to successfully convince your bank or a business that they are you or are authorized to access further information about you. It is also possible that you have shared information that may make you a more attractive target. Your tweets may reveal your daily routine and when you are not at home. Your Facebook pictures may highlight your assets – from your car and jewelry to your electronics and home decor.
All of this information is incredibly valuable to criminals targeting you for cyber fraud. Review your privacy settings to protect future posts, and review what you have shared in the past to ensure no one has access to information you wouldn’t want strangers to know about you and your family. Keep an eye out for criminals who may approach you directly using information you have shared. You might not believe an email from a Prince who wants to send you his fortune, but you may believe someone who says they found the ring you mentioned losing on Twitter.
Step 2: Be cautious with your devices, and to be careful using public ones.
You must never leave your electronic devices, such as a mobile phone, accessible to others. This includes using a strong password for any desktop computers in your home. Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid using public devices. Checking your account balance, email, or even making an online purchase using a public desktop computer is riskier than waiting until you get home. If you cannot wait, ensure you log out of your account when finished and delete the browser history and cache.
It is equally important to be cautious when using public Wi-Fi. Hot spots may be established by cyber fraud criminals themselves, or compromised by them, and the open nature of public Wi-Fi networks makes it easier for your information to fall into the wrong hands.
It is possible for anyone using the same hot spot to snoop on what you are doing by, for example, monitoring which websites you are visiting. When using a public Wi-Fi network, it is best to assume a stranger is looking over your shoulder and only engage in online activities you would not mind others seeing. If you must complete a sensitive activity – say online banking, or checking social media – use encrypted websites or a Virtual Private Network.
Step 3: Be aware of your online activities.
Many businesses today will alert you if they detect unusual activities associated with your accounts. If someone tries to log into your email account from the other side of the country, you might get a notification seeking authorization. If your credit card number is used by a criminal to make an online purchase, your bank may call to verify it is you buying the item. Keep a close eye out for these warnings so you catch them immediately, and monitor any records – such as credit card statements – for any fraudulent activity.
These are just three of the most crucial steps you should take to make you and your family a less attractive target for cyber fraud. Incorporating these cyber security tips into your daily routine can offer a greater peace of mind, by mitigating potential threats thereby providing further protection of your personal information and assets.
Statistics Canada: Police-reported cybercrime in Canada, 2012
Global News: Top 10 scams of 2016 reveal Canadians lost more than $90M last year