Be Aware, Stay Safe: Tips to Defend Yourself Against Cybercrime
How to protect yourself and your finances as cybercrimes surge.
As modern technology continues to evolve within our daily lives, so does one of its biggest challenges: cybercrime.
In 2020, the FBI reported upwards of 791,000 suspected Internet crimes—more than 300,000 from figures in 20191.
And while a few factors may be fueling that uptick—from the onset of the pandemic to the advent of cryptocurrency—it’s clear that scammers today are using more advanced tactics, and far more often.
It’s a reality to be particularly aware of February through April, when hackers hone in on tax season and the opportunities therein (including ample chances for social engineering and phishing—strategies that account for more than 80% of reported cybersecurity threats2). Those practices can result in significant identity theft damages (like in 2021, when they totaled nearly $6 billion3) which is a strong reminder for us all to be on the digital defense.
Here, Casualty Claims Manager Bryan Raup from Berkley One, a Berkley Company, sheds light on the many ways “fraudsters” are targeting their victims —and how we can consistently counter these techniques, keeping our information secure this season and beyond.
- Remember that the IRS is a trusted source.
A crucial detail to keep top of mind during tax season is how the IRS—a trusted source—will make contact. “The IRS initiates contact via regular mail—they will never—never—initiate contact via email, phone, text, or social media,” says Raup. The only exception to this, he adds, would be a phone call, but only in the instance that an attempted mail contact was unsuccessful.
- Understand how “fraudsters” work.
To best defend ourselves against any cybercrime schemes, it’s important to understand how fraudsters work—and to keep our cool, especially when it feels like stakes are high. “Fraudsters prey on emotions, so tax season is a key time for them,” says Raup. “A lot of people wait until the last minute to file, so they’re already on edge and susceptible to the ways in which these criminals may reach them.” Just one example Raup notes is one of the three most common frauds. Victims will receive a phone call or email explaining that money is owed, and if not paid, the police will be sent to the house. “You can imagine what it would feel like to receive that phone call—panic sets in.” It’s all the more reason to remember the credibility of the IRS and how they operate, as opposed to scammers and the emotion-based systems they employ.
- Be on the lookout for today’s three most common frauds.
Even if you’re aware of the above, it can be tempting to fall for some of the other cybercrime tricks employed today. According to Raup, these are the three most common: a call or an email saying that you owe money; a call or an email saying that you owe money and if you don’t pay, the IRS will cancel or revoke your social security number (or send the police to your home); and a call or an email saying not that you owe money—but rather, that they owe you money. “They’ll call or email and say something to the effect of, ‘We did your taxes last year and are seeing that we owe you money—all you have to do is click this link and share your debit information; we’ll deposit it for you,’” says Raup. “This is a newer method, and you can see how it’s a clever one—it’s not a scare tactic like the other methods we’ve been seeing for some time.”
- Be aware of key targets.
While all of the above constitutes “phishing,” or a cyber attack comprised of communication that seeks to receive critical personal information from a mass of people, there is another term that Raup notes we should all be aware of: “spear phishing,” or the ways in which these scams can be carefully and strategically targeted to a select number of victims . “Scammers will target people who work in the tax industry and financial sectors, as well as high-net-worth individuals,” he says. According to a 2017 report, 28% of high-net-worth individuals have been the victim of at least one cyber attack4—and that was before the rise in cybercrime activity in recent years.
- Ignore suspicious emails and texts—and don’t click any links.
It’s best to avoid suspicious emails, texts, and calls altogether by not opening them or answering—but if you do open a questionable email or text (even accidentally), it’s even more important to refrain from clicking on any links. “Sometimes the act of clicking on that link alone can actually download malware to your computer or phone, which can help the scammer to gain access to your devices,” says Raup. While some may not view that event as a significant risk, Raup cautions otherwise. “If a scammer has access to your computer, they can typically figure out a way to gain access to your email—and with this information, they can usually determine a way to create a new password by which to access your bank account,” he says. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s how easily and quickly these situations can occur—you owe money, click on this link, and poof—they can steal your money.” To help mitigate your risk in any potential phishing situation, be on high-alert when encountering questionable communications.
Berkley offers optional Cyber Coverage Endorsement which includes access to CyberScout, an identity monitoring and protection organization that provides insights and guidance in the digital security landscape. To learn more, contact us here.