Cybercrime: Paying the Price for ‘Free’ Internet

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It is hard to imagine life without the internet. Most of us rely on it for work, entertainment and socializing with friends as well as family. Technically, access to the internet is free, beyond paying for our electronics, bills and internet plans. However, we all pay a price to be online, some more than others. Cybercrime is a threat to individuals, companies and even entire countries. It can compromise our security, financial health and personal identity. Some of the most common spams, like Nigerian princes, can be easy to identify. But internet scammers are constantly evolving, finding new ways to steal anything from your email address to your entire life savings.

Computer keyboard with fingerprint button
Computer keyboard with fingerprint button

 

It Can Happen to Anyone

Just like with other unfortunate scenarios, it can be easy to say ‘this will never happen to me.’ But you are vulnerbale to cybercrime if you are online in any form. Even technologically savvy people can click on the wrong link, auto-download a questionable email attachment or buy from a convincing fake store. In an age when so much of our life is online, it can be so much easier for something to go wrong. Unfortunately, while we have health insurance, house insurance and even pet insurance, we still don’t have the same protections online.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced an online purchase that never arrived or gotten a virus from clicking on the wrong link. In most cases, the damage is minimal. Not getting money back from a shopping spree is annoying but minor. Many of us will just wave it off as bad judgement and won’t pursue compensation. Scams like this can rack up a lot of money since the individual losses are so small that many people won’t bother to report it and have it shut down. But it can get a lot more serious than petty theft.

 

How Successful Are Internet Scammers?

Concept of cloud access
Concept of cloud access

Since so many people think that internet scams will never happen to them, they may not realize the full extent of the damage caused. According to reports, 0.80% of the world’s GDP is being lost to cybercrime. A report that was published during 2019 showed the total global cost of all the data breaches to be over $2.1 trillion already that year at time of publishing. It is estimated that 1 out of every 50 emails contain malicious content. According to Symantec’s ISTR 2019 report, the use of malicious PowerShell scripts has increased by 1,000% in 2018.

Phishing attacks are perhaps the most common form of cyber attacks. Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity, for example pretending to be a bank. The information they try to steal varies but includes usernames, passwords, social security numbers and credit card details. It is estimated that 91% of cyber-attacks of any form start with phishing emails.

As more people use cryptocurrency, the rise of cryptojacking, or the stealing of these virtual currencies, is growing. According to CipherTrace, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm, $1.7 billion was stolen from exchanges and scammed from investors in 2018. This is a 400% surge since 2017, which is a shocking increase that will only continue to rise. Just two months ago, a 17-year-old managed to steal money from thousands of people by hacking into accounts of 130 famous individuals including Barack Obama. Even more recently, someone hacked into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account, asking for crypto donations.

 

How to Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime

Despite how widespread these internet scams are, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent them. Using a full-service internet security suite is a great place to begin. There are many options out there including Norton, McAfee, Webroot and Bitdefender just to name a few. Each has its own pros and cons that need to be researched to meet your needs. Sometimes these services can make it harder to browse online because of all the security alerts and checks, but it will also make it harder for hackers to hurt you.

strong password

Other than installing a service, there are other obvious yet sometimes overlooked steps to stay safe. Using a strong password, changing it regularly and not using the same one for everything is really easy yet effective. Keeping your software updated and checking your visibility settings on all your social media accounts is another big one. Finally, staying up to date on common scams is also helpful so that you know what to look out for.

 

What to Do if You Become a Victim

Even if you take all of the precautions in the world, you could still be susceptible to cyber crimes. It is incredibly important to know what to do in the case that you have been targeted. Even if the crime seems minor, it can be helpful to report it to the local police and authorities. However, if the crime is more severe and your identity may have been stolen, it needs to be reported to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission – or similar organizations based on your location and citizenship.

blocking card

If your phone was hacked or a password was stolen, the criminals involved may have access to your bank accounts and more. It is important to notify your bank immediately and change all your passwords. In many cases you can add extra layers of security such as verifications over email, phone call or text messages. This way, even if someone has your password, you can still block their access with these extra steps. Since the wrong post on social media can have negative long-term effects, it is important to have a higher level of security on your social media accounts as well.

clicking link

The more time we spend online, the more susceptible we are when it comes to cybercrime. Internet scammers are smarter than ever before and have more ways to access sensitive information. As working online remotely becomes more common, there is a higher chance of breaches in security to occur. Using unsafe networks, clicking on the wrong link and trusting someone online can have serious consequences. Identity fraud can have life-long effects and can cost you your job, loss of finances and even damage your reputation.

We need to give up the notion that the internet is free and accept that we all pay for it by exposing ourselves in ways that we don’t even realize. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to stay safe. Basically, we need to stay as alert when we are online as we are when we walk down the street. Unfortunately, we are just as likely to get robbed online as we are out in the real world, if not more. Especially if we continue to take our online safety for granted.

Photos: Shutterstock


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