Every few months, concerns around online scams and theft are raised as a new wave of victims come forward. It seems almost seasonal. But the truth is that cybercrime never goes away. Every day, new victims fall for schemes. There are stories of people losing large amounts of money – even their life’s savings.
It can leave one feeling very vulnerable and uncertain. But a little knowledge goes a long way in this fight.
Secure your phone
It is vital to make your smartphone secure and, in case of theft, useless. The most obvious precaution is to lock the device with a password, swipe gesture or fingerprint reader, says Jacky Fick, head of Cell C’s Forensic Services and an expert in cybercrime.
“We often think our phones can’t contain too much interesting information. But it’s like losing your house keys. Your phone can open a lot of doors for cyber criminals. Once they have their hands on things like phone numbers and home addresses, they can find ways to hijack your financial accounts.”
If the phone is stolen, it can be remotely wiped and even disabled. This depends on the type of phone, but can also be done with third-party apps if they are installed.
Beware of Phishing
When fishing, as in angling, a lure is dangled in the water, made to look like a delicious piece of food and not plastic with a sharp hook. In on-line phishing, a piece of correspondence is made to look like news warranting attention, but can hide a host of dangerous electronic traps.
Such provocative messages contain an opportunity or impending disaster. An email could offer supposed LOTTO winnings, unclaimed tax refunds or a surprise inheritance. Phishing often mimics banks: an SMS offering a raise in a credit card limit or a formal email requesting an update of your details. Whatever the message, the goal is to steal information by posing as something else. Fick has three rules to help avoid such an attack:
“The first rule is that if you get an offer that seems too good, then it is. Always be suspicious. The second is to check the source. If the message looks like it came from a bank, call the bank. Third, never share personal information with someone who contacted you. If they called you, call back using the official company hotline number, not one they provide. Don’t click on links in emails or instant messages that look suspicious. Delete them immediately. Institutions such as banks will not request personal information in that way. They will request you visit a branch.”
Avoiding Sim Swaps
We have become very reliant on our phones as gatekeepers of our financial mobility. You cannot add beneficiaries or do certain transfers without a phone to supply one-time pins or approval. This is why sim card swaps are so attractive to criminals: they represent the keys to the city.
The number on a phone is based on the sim card inside. But that number can be electronically transferred to another sim. Anyone who has held onto their number for several years will have used a sim swap service. It’s a legitimate service, but can be manipulated to make an unauthorised swap. This is often done over the phone, with a criminal posing as the sim card’s owner.
“It’s important to know sim swaps happen at an advanced stage of the crime,” says Fick. “If they are attempting a sim swap, it means they already have things like banking details. They may also have enough personal information to try and get through the security questions. This is why phishing is so dangerous, because it can open the door to this kind of thing.”
Common Sense Still Applies
Keeping safe with technology is not impossible, but it requires device owners to be proactive. Other than the advice above, Fick offered the following:
● Avoid installing unofficial apps: these can be used to sneak bad software onto your device. Use the official app stores, where apps are checked and secure.
● Apply patches to software, particularly updates to your phone’s system. These often contain fixes for problems that criminals could use to access your information.
● Email is not the only danger. Any type of link or file attachment can be dangerous. If you receive offers or request for information over SMS, WhatsApp, MMS or other means, don’t click on any link it contains. Delete the message instead.
● Take care with public WI-FI and unsecured internet connections. Information sent over such networks can be intercepted.
● A handbag or wallet contains a lot of useful information for identify theft and other cybercrime. Keep your personal possessions safe and in sight.
● Phones attract more cybercrime, but computers remain a target. Always run antivirus software that is up to date and be sure to apply system updates regularly.
● If you think something is wrong, do not hesitate. Contact your mobile service provider or bank’s hotline immediately if you notice odd behaviour.