This past year has brought a record number of data breaches – up 17% as of the third quarter – and experts are warning 2022 could bring an increasing number of targeted attacks that rely more on manipulating people’s emotions than on technical expertise.
“While we can never predict what will happen in the future, some of the data we see gives us a good glimpse into what’s ahead,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, idtheftcenter.org. “In 2021, we saw threat actors become more targeted and strategic.”
Velasquez pointed to “social engineering” scams that use “psychological tactics,” which aim to get information from a person or a business. These scams play on your emotions, using fear, greed or curiosity to pry loose private details, according to Terranova Security. They also might tap into a desire to be helpful or the instinct to respond to a perceived sense of urgency.
The idea is to induce someone to disclose Social Security numbers, account log-in information, financial details, log-in credentials or a business’ financial information.
The methods include phishing emails or email hacking, or “vishing,” the voice version of phishing, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. There’s also “smishing,” part of the alphabet of scams. This one relies on text messages.
Some common signs of a phishing effort are the following:
• A suspicious sender’s address, which can imitate a legitimate business or organization by using a similar address that alters or omits a character.
• Poor grammar and sentence structure. “Reputable institutions have dedicated personnel that produce, verify and proofread customer correspondence,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
• An unsolicited email that asks the recipient to download or open an attachment. This is when a scammer might use a false sense of urgency so the victim doesn’t feel like there’s time to examine the request.
The best way to protect yourself is by stepping back when you get an unsolicited contact that seems odd. Do not respond to an immediate emotion. Instead, do some research by contacting the business or organization directly, or talking to a trusted friend or relative before taking any action.
Also, trust your instincts. If something seems strange to you, don’t respond.
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In my last column extolling the virtues of credit freezes, I neglected to mention that the three national credit reporting agencies are continuing to give people free weekly access to their credit reports.
Equifax, Experian and Transunion began offering the online weekly reports last year and have extended that offer until April 20, 2022.
Credit reports have information about credit and payment history, and are an important tool in fighting identity theft by letting you know about any new accounts or spending done in your name.
You can get the reports by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or (505) 823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1 (888) 255-9210 or file a complaint at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.