Even though it doesn’t physically hurt when you’re hit by cybercrime, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pain. Hackers and cybercriminals can easily ruin your bank account, take loans out in your name or destroy your reputation.
And because cybercrime isn’t “real” in the physical sense, it’s taken years for most people to grasp the full scope of the damage it inflicts. Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 467,361 reports, about 1,300 every single day. Individuals and businesses lost a whopping $3.5 billion to cybercrime.
That’s part of why you’re seeing so many more internet crime warnings straight from federal agencies. Tap or click to see how the FBI is alerting people to new cybercrimes.
Government agencies and our antivirus can only go so far to protect us from cybercrime. Knowing what to avoid online is your best defense. Here are 10 of the most dangerous, and common, internet crimes you need to watch out for.
1. Voice spoofing
You know you should verify emails and texts asking for info like passwords or financial details, but do you think twice when you receive a phone call asking for the same?
It’s easier than ever to fake a call over the web with voice spoofing, a new emerging threat. Artificial intelligence technology needs only five minutes of a person’s voice to spoof it. Just feed the algorithm a few audio samples and presto — you have an uncanny text-to-speech engine that sounds like a real person.
You don’t have to be a tech whiz to do it, either. Just type what you’d like the voice to say and it’s done.
If you get a call from a coworker or your boss, listen carefully for odd pronunciation and weird gaps in their speech. Despite sounding like the person you think you’re talking to, many text-to-speech engines still pronounce words incorrectly or clip sentences so they begin and end abruptly.
Even if you don’t hear anything odd, you need to verify the call was legitimate before taking any action. Contact the person in another way — via text, message, email or another phone call — to confirm the initial call was legitimate.
2. SIM swapping is serious business
This cybercime is relatively new, but the results can be devastating. SIM swaps occur when a criminal tries to bypass the two-factor authentication on your wireless carrier account.
By calling your carrier and providing them with a few pieces of your information, the scammer can switch your phone number over to a SIM card they own, which locks you out of your own phone for good. That’s only the first step.
Once your number is on the criminal’s SIM card, that means any 2FAs you have set up for other accounts are null and void. Hackers can easily crack your accounts to steal your data and money without your knowledge. It’s a complex scheme and it’s already happening in the wild.
Oftentimes, cybercriminals are able to SIM swap with help from information gleaned from data breaches. If your personal data was lost in a data breach, it may have ended up on the Dark Web for hackers to use. Tap or click here to find out how to protect yourself from Dark Web data abuse.
As scary as SIM swapping is, you shouldn’t get rid of 2FA. It’s still a hurdle cybercriminals need to overcome, and only the most dedicated ones will go through the trouble of SIM swapping.
What can you do? Call your carrier and ask to set up an additional PIN to verify your identity. You should also secure your account with fake answers for your security questions. The real ones are just too easy to guess. Be careful though, don’t forget what you choose or you’ll get locked out.
Tap or click here to see even more ways to protect against SIM swapping.
3. Scandalous sextortion scams
Sextortion scams involve hackers and cybercriminals using intimate personal photos as a form of blackmail. These photos often come from data breaches or device hacks, but some particularly nasty malware can actually record you straight from your computer’s camera. Tap or click for more on the porn site sextortion scheme.
Thankfully, the more sinister forms of sextortion aren’t that common. A vast majority of sextortion emails are nothing more than phishing attempts that use publicly available information (or less-than-intimate leaked data) to trick you into thinking the hacker really does have videos and pictures of you.
In reality, it’s all bluster — but the threat of sextortion is enough to make people pay up. There’s even a strain of sextortion ransomware that demands nude photos to unlock your system. Tap or click here to see how it works.
If you’re targeted by a sextortion scam, your best course of action is to simply ignore it. Responding to the scammers will only give them more ammunition to attack you later, which is the last thing you want to do.
If you feel like you’re in danger, report the incident to the FBI’s tip hotline at 1-800-225-5324. The Bureau is currently on the hunt for sextortioners as part of its cybercrime mission.
4. Tech support swindlers
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve received your share of robocalls in the last year. A sizable portion of these are tech support scams that masquerade as familiar companies like Apple and Microsoft.
If you engage with these “technicians,” they’ll take you on a wild goose chase with your device that usually ends with you paying up or with them installing malware on your device. Once that money is gone, it can be difficult or even impossible to recover. Tap or click here to discover an app that lets you sue robocallers.
As financially damaging as these scammers can be, they’re actually easy to ignore. If you get a call or email claiming to be from a major tech company, always be skeptical. It’s very unlikely Apple is actually on the other end.
Major tech companies never reach out to customers regarding technical issues, and they never ask for personal information or payments over the phone.
5. SWATing: The bane of gamers
Ask any gamer and they’ll tell you how heated the competition can get. Aside from screaming, one of the worst things a gamer can do to another is SWAT them.
This cybercrime involves siccing the SWAT team or police on an unsuspecting victim by filing a false police report. The report is a wild accusation, like a hostage situation, which prompts police to show up armed and ready. When the doorbell rings, the unsuspecting gamer has law enforcement officers to reckon with.
It may sound outlandish, but SWATing is real and it isn’t a harmless prank. Numerous victims have been injured during these events and one man was even shot.
Despite its serious consequences, SWATing is treated like a joke in many gaming circles and kids are one of the most easily influenced groups. When your kids or grandkids are playing online, keep a close eye on them. Discourage trolling or badmouthing. Good sportsmanship is the best way to avoid inappropriate reactions from other gamers.
It’s also worth going over some basic internet safety procedures with your kids to keep their heads and hearts in the right place. Our free Kid’s Tech Contract for parents and kids is the perfect way to educate them about cybersecurity. Tap or click here to see how your family can benefit from it.
6. Identity theft and catfishing
Cybercriminals use data breaches and phishing schemes for one main reason: to steal people’s identities.
Identity theft goes beyond just Social Security numbers and credit accounts. When someone steals personal login credentials, data or photos, they can attempt to pass as you for a number of nefarious reasons.
One way a cybercriminal can wreak havoc is to purchase your information from the Dark Web. With enough bitcoin, a criminal can steal your digital identity and access your social media and bank accounts. Just imagine what they could do to your reputation and finances.
If you suspect you’re the victim of identity theft, call your banks and alert them of potential fraud. You should also consider freezing your credit so nobody can open accounts in your name. Tap or click here to see the benefits of a credit freeze.
But sometimes a cyberciminal’s motives aren’t financial. They may steal something as innocent as your photos to catfish others. Catfishing is a type of dating scam where someone creates an account using stolen photos and pretends to be the person in those images.
This is sometimes done out of insecurity, but it can also be used to lower people’s guards against more serious crimes like stalking and assault.
To protect yourself, keep your social media accounts private. This way, the only image a catfisher can steal is your profile picture. Tap or click here to learn the Facebook privacy settings you need to change.
7. Elder fraud is a breach of trust
According to research by the Aspen Institute, the U.S. has seen a 400% increase in cybercrimes targeting seniors. Collectively, victims over 60 lost more than $650 million in 2018 alone, and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
But why attack seniors? The reasons boil down to a combination of news awareness and a lack of tech know-how. Many seniors aren’t fully aware of the ins and outs of digital technology, making it easy for hackers and cybercriminals to take advantage.
Cybercriminals often masquerade as trusted entities like tech support operators or even as family members or government organizations to gain a senior’s trust.
And according to a 2018 study from PewResearch, more than half of viewers aged 65 and older get their news primarily from cable. This helps cybercriminals prey on newsworthy fears like election hacking and the coronavirus to spread malware and scams aimed at seniors. Tap or click to see the latest batch of scams based on current events.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of elder fraud, report the incident to the FBI hotline at 1-800- 225-5324.
8. Email attacks are a hacker’s bread and butter
Think about everything in your inbox. Hackers love targeting your email because it’s where you do most of your online business. Email accounts are treasure troves that include contacts, personal information and login credentials for other accounts.
If your email account is compromised, identity theft and data breaches are common outcomes. Plus, some cyberattacks don’t even need to hack into your email account to spread viruses. They add malicious code into email attachments, which is why you should never open messages or attachments from anyone you’re not 100% sure about.
To protect your email accounts, set up two-factor authentication. This adds an additional layer of protection so even if a hacker knows your email and password, they’ll need your physical phone to gain access. Tap or click to learn how to set up 2FA on the most popular online accounts.
9. Ransomware: WannaCry about it?
Ransomware is a cybercrime that uses your data to extort you for money. It’s almost exclusively a virus that infects your system and locks up your files for good — unless you pay.
Though it might seem easier just to pay the ransom to regain access to your files, doing so can put you in more danger. Once a hacker knows they can extort you, they’ll likely try again and again. Just like the U.S. government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, neither should you negotiate with cybercriminals.
The best defense against ransomware is a secure cloud backup. These backups aren’t stored on your computer, so even if your physical device is locked down by malware, you’ll still have access to that important information.
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10. Playing with the big boys: Government sponsored hacking
Of course, we can’t mention malware without bringing up the elephant in the room: State-sponsored hackers. WannaCry, one of the most infamous ransomware programs of all, was determined by U.S. intelligence to be the work of the North Korean government.
Similarly, cyberwar efforts from countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia have taken a toll on several online communities and individuals. Earlier this year, investigative reports determined Jeff Bezos’ personal phone was hacked by higher-ups in the Saudi government. Tap or click here to see how they did it.
As scary as this sounds, there isn’t too much that can be done about government-sponsored hackers. Unlike independent cybercriminals, foreign cyber-ops are often funded by a nation’s military budget. This means their resources vastly dwarf those of conventional hackers.
As with ransomware, basic precautions and preparedness will go a long way. But the rise of state-sponsored hackers just drives home the point that the internet isn’t the safe place we all assume it is.
Don’t be caught unaware. Knowledge and backing up your files to a cloud service are among the best defenses you can deploy. So the next time you’re checking your email or answering a call from a “Microsoft technician,” you know to delete the message and hang up the phone.