Opinion — ’Tis the season to protect your digital identity

Published 4:33 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

Dean Brown

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams every year. With even more consumers shopping online due to supply chain interruptions and continued challenges through the pandemic, this presents an even greater opportunity for malicious cyberattacks.

A cyberattack is an unwelcome attempt to steal, expose or alter information through unauthorized online access. These attacks can occur through mobile devices and computers if basic security precautions are not taken. And scammers are finding even more opportunities to infiltrate devices as businesses and their employees navigate remote work tech vulnerabilities.

To help protect your digital identity and personal finances, below are some of the common scams to watch out for, how you can effectively prevent them, or how to react if you find yourself a victim.

The scam: Account Takeover

How it works: Fraudsters gain access to your personal or corporate accounts with compromised credentials. Two common ways this happens include:

Spear Phishing: Fraudsters send targeted emails to users of the corporate network, hoping they fall for the fraud and provide their account credentials.

Credential Stuffing: The fraudster uses a collection of known passwords from past breaches to access other accounts held by the same person, including corporate logins.

Prevent an account takeover by:

Using different passwords for all your accounts.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication wherever possible.

Do not click email links from unknown senders.

The Scam: Email Compromise Fraud

How It Works: Email compromise fraud occurs when fraudsters place themselves in the middle of email communications. This could involve unauthorized access to valid email accounts or spoofing of a valid email account. Spoofing occurs when the fraudster creates a new email address that appears to be the same as someone you know and trust but has minor changes that you might not notice. A fraudster may use this tactic to create an account that appears to be your boss, relative or even financial institution.

If your email has been hacked, your device may also be compromised. You might notice strange pop-up windows and newly installed applications, or your device might run slower than normal or have trouble shutting down or restarting.

If your device has been compromised:

Quarantine the device by disconnecting it from the internet and Bluetooth and turning off the ability to connect to Wi-Fi

Using a different, uncompromised device, change your passwords to all your accounts.

Contact your financial institution.

Take the device to a reputable service provider to be cleaned.

The Scam: Romance Scams

How it Works: A criminal might try to develop trust with a victim quickly by appearing genuine and caring as they present a compelling situation and ask for help. For example, you might be told a relative or friend is in trouble and needs your financial assistance. A fraudster might persuade you to transfer your own money, or they might turn you into a money mule to transfer stolen money.

If you find yourself in the middle of a romance scam:

Immediately stop communicating with the person giving you instructions.

File a report with law enforcement.

Contact your financial institution, as you may need to establish a new account.

Safeguard your finances by being able to identify scams, staying vigilant, and moving quickly if your cybersecurity is compromised. If you suspect you have been the victim of any fraud scam or scheme, contact your financial institution immediately so you can work together to mitigate any risk to your personal finances.

Dean Brown is the enterprise operations and chief information officer at Atlantic Union Bank.