We are a connected and an open society.

According to Business Insider Intelligence  survey’s forecast released in January 2019, there will be more than 64 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2025, up from about 10 billion in 2018, and 9 billion in 2017. The IoT industry refers to the interconnection of all of our computing devices that surround us in our everyday objects like our smartphones, smart speakers, and smart machines. This wondrous ecosystem allows us to send and receive data to and from each other with greater control and efficiency at home and work.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we may be more vulnerable to all different kinds of fraud.  All this pervasive interconnection requires our private information: names, birthdates, addresses, online login, passwords, account information, bank account numbers, mother’s maiden name, health information,  and often our social security numbers. We share a lot of our information too freely, even genetic information we received from Ancestry.com and 23andMe. Well what if we learn something that is very private and it is disclosed to our insurance company?  Then there may some in our open society who would like to wrongly access to our most private information and deceive us for their personal gain. Without data security, there would not be privacy in an electronic interconnected world.

There have been several significant data breaches in recent years. The largest among them was  Yahoo with 3 billion accounts in 2013 plus another 500 million in 2014. Then 500 million by Marriott Hotels in 2017, 412 million by Friend Finder in 2016 but the 146 million in 2017 by Equifax, one of the three credit bureaus was a bit shocking, wasn’t it?

Why should we care about privacy?

Of course, it is not news that we share a lot of information. We have increased our awareness of the need to be more private even in the midst of marked security improvements. Identity theft in the US was highest in 2012 at $21.8 billion, dropped to nearly $17 billion in 2017 according to Javelin Strategy.

In early March 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its latest findings in the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. It tells us we need to continue to be vigilant. The following statistics are illuminating:

  • In 2018, there were nearly three million reports collected, up from 2.7 million reports in 2017.
  • The top reports in 2018 associated in three areas: Fraud or imposter scams rising to the most notable area with 1.4 million, 1.1 million in debt collection, and 444,602 in identity theft.
  • Of the number one category of fraud in 2018, consumers reported a loss amounting to $1.48 billion in total fraud losses equating to a $375 median loss.That is a significant increase from $905 million in total fraud losses and equates to $429 median loss reported in 2017. In both years, one in five people are lost money to scams.
  • 43% of younger people aged 20-29 years reported losing money due to fraud as well as the 15% of people in their 70s who reported losses due to fraud. However, losses between the two vulnerable age groups differed. Those in their 20s reported a median loss of $400, but those in their 70s had a median loss of $750, and those in their 80s reported median losses of $1700. While the young are being exploited by fraudsters, the elderly with more assets are losing larger amounts.
  •  Credit card-related identity theft grew 24%, as misusing someone’s information to open a new credit card account was reported more often than other forms of identity theft. Tax-related identity theft was down 38% in 2018.

What do the numbers mean in our daily lives?

The reality of what really happens when you are a victim is not fully reflected by the above statistics. Fraudulent charges may appear on your credit card. They may appear in small amounts and then grow faster before you notice them to dispute the charges with the credit card company.This could impair your credit score and report. I will address later how to better protect yourself.

A family expecting a much needed tax refund may not receive because it was apparently stolen. When your refund is wrongfully taken, you lose opportunities. For example, you were hoping to use that earmarked refund for an appliance or a downpayment for a car. The elderly or the disabled may be unable to access government benefits they use to pay for their basic needs when someone else has wrongly used their account information. When our privacy is violated, potentially embarrassing and sensitive information could be revealed about us in terms of our education, finances, and our health.

The FTC, an independent government agency that promotes consumer protection, posts valuable information for consumers about the most recent and varied scam alerts and warning signs. I recently perused the latest list of scams that the FTC has filed lawsuits in 2018 and found three scam examples:

  1. Job seekers were deceptively charged thousands of dollars by a so-called executive recruiter when applying for executive level positions. They were tricked into believing they were strong candidates. They even went on interviews that were staged.
  2. One of the biggest types of scams in 2018, were romantic scams. these scams amounted to a reported loss of $143 million, arising from dating apps where attractive photos and profiles are posted, first enticing people and then they ask for you to send money or gifts.
  3. A Netflix phishing scam was uncovered in Ohio. Phishing is when someone uses fake emails or texts to get you to share your valuable information, including account numbers, Social Security numbers, login IDs and passwords. Police in Ohio found a phishing email circulating that claimed that the Netflix’s user was being put on hold because the company is having trouble with the user’s current billing information and then invites the user to click on a link that would update their payment method. Bam! This last one hit very close to home as I can imagine my teens at home, especially my daughter who bingewatches, would be over our shoulders urging us on to click that link.

How do we better protect ourselves?

Acknowledging that data collection will only increase as we provide more of our data online through social media, fintech companies, collected by cookies (small files stored on a user’s computer to hold data specific to websites) and the multitudes of apps that are not yet available, we will need to be more watchful.

What we need to do, besides having a healthy dose of skepticism:

Be on the alert to imposters and phishing emails. According to the FTC, scammers are sometimes posing as someone you can trust, such as a family member, government official, or charity. Never send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request.

  1. Safely dispose of your personal information. Use a paper shredder or wipe your computer hard drive. Find ways to delete all your information from smart phone and remove your SIM card. To be honest, I keep all my old electronic devices.
  2. Don’t use public wifi. This is a recent change for our family. I always used Starbucks’s wifi  when I literally lived at my local place when studying for the bar (to practice law).  I have also encouraged my kids to use the public wifi rather than drive up our data bill. No more! The same reason we find it easy to connect to public wifi because there isn’t authentication is beneficial to hackers.
  3. Don’t believe your caller ID as it easy for scammers to fake names and numbers. I once picked up my house phone because I recognized my own cell number. I hung up that baby so fast that I almost broke my phone.
  4. Consider how you pay. While credit cards have significant fraud protection when detected, wiring money is among the worse methods you can use according to the latest FTC report. If you are using Western Union or MoneyGram,  be aware that you can’t get your money back. When I worked on a case for the court, an elderly woman who was losing her mental capacity was literally giving away a large portion of her significant net worth through MoneyGrams to a constant caller who would meet in her mysterious places in her neighborhood, unbeknownst to her family who were unaware of her declining capacity or her constant money wiring.
  5. Keep your passwords private. Young people tend to overshare everything including their smartphones, and often will provide friends their passwords. Change passwords often and use strong passwords.
  6. Don’t carry your social security number in your wallet or on you. This seems obvious but also don’t carry any private information that may contain your social security number which can be on many different kinds of documents, such as credit card applications, bank applications, your health plan.
  7. Take outgoing mail to the post office or to post office collection boxes. As a kid, I remember what those boxes for. Well they are back in style again. There is too much of our private information in those letters. Do more correspondence online.
  8. Review your credit report for possible issues. The three nationwide credit reporting companies–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report at your request, once every 12 months. You can also visit annualcreditreport.com to your free report. The FTC does not recommend that you use other websites for free reports.
  9. Monitor your personal information as soon as you get it or go paperless. Review all your statements when you get them and call vendors when you spot a mistake.

Things happen even to the most careful among us

If your identity is stolen, you need to take action promptly. Experian provides some information on their website.

Here are a few steps:

  • You need to go to the FTC’s ID Theft Reporting website in order to access identitytheft.gov to report the fraud.The FTC will walk you through the report and provide important resources. You will also be issued an identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit.
  • Assess the damage and let the three credit bureaus know to put a fraud alert for a year on your credit report and freeze credit which is free as of late 2018.
  •  Contact your creditors, credit card companies, and financial institutions.
  • You will need to contact appropriate state and federal agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, US Postal Service, Passport Services of the US State Department and any other agencies that you might routinely be in contact with.

Our privacy is costly when we lose it. We have a lot of freedom in our lives and benefit greatly from the wondrous interconnected digital world we live in but we need to protect all we have. If and when we are violated, we are robbed monetarily, we lose trust and we lose our piece of mind. Our job is to be aware, be more protective and continue freely and well.

My friends and family have been impacted, some more than others. It is never funny when it happens to you and your loved ones. Years ago I recall the data security breach of Ashley Madison, a dating website designed for people who wanted to have extramarital affairs. Many customer records were disclosed by hackers no doubt causing some harm to spousal relationships.

There are so many ways to protect yourselves based on stories you may hear from others. How are you protecting yourself so you can avoid the loss of private information. We can learn from each other. We would like to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your credit scores may be impaired by others and will take time to take corrective action.

 

 

 

 

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